Exams are scary to many people.
If this is you, isn’t it time to change?
You might have avoided exams, tests and any form of assessment in the past. You might wonder if you will ever get through another exam, but you can if you are ready and willing to change.
This is the second part in a mini-series looking at my journey through all kinds of assessments that made me feel stressed and anxious at times.
But the good news is that the more I continued fighting my fear, the more I could cope and I built up resilience.
I feel so much more in control now compared to the days when I was in my twenties. Furthermore, as I have learnt so many things about the anxiety related to exams and tests I ended up researching the subject! Today I want to share with you some of those things I learnt in those early days.
So if you are struggling with exams and tests read on!
How can people know how good you are?
Let’s start with a couple of questions. How can people know how good you are at something in life? How do you know how good you are?
Exams put the focus on you. Its part of life feeling judged and needing to be measured. You might ask yourself if we really need exams and tests to measure us more. My answer is that we do!
In a modern-day society, we all need to be assessed to prove our levels of knowledge and skills and our competency levels to develop ourselves and our work.
Assessment, such as exams and tests, can happen at the beginning of a course or learning, in the middle, or at the end. Assessments can be formal and lead to a qualification or they can be informal.
Some people get muddled up between assessment and evaluation. I learnt that assessment is about the learners level of competence whereas evaluation is more about measuring the teaching programme.
During my journey of learning, I have discovered a lot about assessments. Sometimes I would wonder why a course couldn’t have an essay or project instead of a test.
But I soon started to realise that whether I called it a test, exam or assessment these things all related to the quality and quantity of learning.
Principles of assessment
Here are some principles of assessment that I have gained.
- Assessments must be valid and reliable to measure the effectiveness of teaching and predict knowledge and behaviour.
- Assessments must be fair and equitable so that they are right for all types of people.
- Assessment should support and develop learning.
- Assessments should be a transparent process.
- The people involved with assessment should be competent and able to use assessment tools.
- Assessments should be monitored, adjusted and changed to meet changing learning needs.
These principles of assessment might apply to school exams, a driving test or work-related assessments.
Exams, tests and many other forms of assessment are everywhere in our lives because there needs to be some form of evidence of your achievement that can help to monitor your progress.
Here are the 3 key things I have learnt about passing an exam…
1. Understand the reasons behind exams, tests and other assessments
When I was younger I wasn’t told and I didn’t make any attempt to find out why people need to take an exam or assessment.
In the early days it seemed like a hassle and a punishment to me to do exams.
I went through school tests, nursing tests, exams and practical assessments.
I just didn’t realise how important exams and tests were. I didn’t think about all the benefits because I could only think about the anxiety of doing exams.
Furthermore, I also didn’t think about the difficulties of assessment, but as I became a teacher and assessor I soon realised that every method of measuring knowledge, skills and attitudes has pros and cons.
Benefits of assessment
- You get a grade or qualification
- Focuses your attention
- Helps with time management
- You can get inspired to learn more
- You demonstrate transferable skills
- You meet standards or legal requirements
- You build resilience
Problems with exams
- Exams only measure what is asked for on the day so they don’t capture the depth of knowledge and skills that you might have.
- If you have a cough or cold you may not give your best on the exam day.
- Exams primarily measure knowledge.
- Many students are overwhelmed with too many forms of assessment. This can result in a lack of confidence, low self-esteem and exam anxiety.
- Some teaching is primarily more about passing the exam rather than learning.
So my first mistake was that I didn’t really understand the purpose of an exam and the benefits of an exam, test or other assessment.
2. I need to take responsibility for my actions
Years ago I didn’t self-assess. I didn’t reflect on why I was struggling, rather I just wanted to get the exam over with. I didn’t prepare my studying very well either. I did study but there was no real plan. I just studied when I felt I should or could.
I didn’t even take note of my emotional response to exams.
I didn’t take responsibility for my progress in life. I drifted from one exam to another.
But I soon learnt that any form of assessment requires us to take action. I had to learn the exam techniques. This is one reason why there are mock exams and people practice tests before the big day.
Some exam techniques I learnt
- Organise yourself.
- Practice tests or exam papers before the real exam.
- Don’t stay up studying the night before the exam.
- Prepare yourself mentally and physically. Eat a healthy diet, exercise and get plenty of sleep.
- On the day of the exam, read the question and answer the question concisely by noting the verbs and keywords in the question.
- Keep to time. Checking the number of questions at the beginning will help to divide the time required for each question.
- Where longer answers or essays are required critically analyse the subject and give both sides of the argument.
- If you finish the exam early, go back over the exam paper and check for spelling or other mistakes.
As the years progressed I did learn those techniques. I took responsibility for myself and the preparation of exams. I took action and it paid off.
Teachers were also helpful because they gave me tips and techniques to pass based on the mistakes of other students.
So my second aspect of learning had been related to the preparation and techniques of exams and myself.
3. Get the right mindset
Lots of people talk about the right mindset, but what does it mean when referring to exams and other assessments?
I believe it’s about noticing yourself.
Notice how you are thinking
Notice your thoughts. Are they positive? If not, how can you reframe your negative thoughts? What are your negative thoughts telling you? Are you thinking about the same negative thoughts?
I learnt that positive imagery can help. Remember the previous tests that you have passed. Dream about success!
Notice how you are feeling
Do you feel stressed, anxious or worried? Have these feelings been there for a long time? Are they getting worse, or better? What else is going on in your life to make you feel like that?
I learnt that emotions that are out of balance are telling me that I need to change track, slow down or do something different. I learnt that talking to others on a course helped tremendously.
Notice your behaviour
Are you procrastinating? Are you looking after your health and wellbeing? Are you keeping a balance in life by doing the things that you enjoy as well as preparing for the exam?
I learnt to give myself time for my family, friends and myself. Going for a walk with the dogs helped.
I conquered exam anxiety and I learnt to pass exams, tests and assignments.
I love learning now and although I don’t love exams I will get through them because I can!
In 2020 I completed a masters degree in hypnosis in research, medicine and clinical practice. This was my second masters degree and I am still learning.
If you are worried about passing an exam, test, or assessment, hypnotherapy, or counselling can help. Please contact me.