How to prepare for an exam

I have to do an oral exam at university and I’m absolutely dreading it. I get panic attacks, so I’m worried my nerves will get the better of me and my mind will go completely blank. What can I do?

Exams are one of the most stressful parts of academic life. Add in anxiety or panic attacks and they become the stuff of nightmares. But there is hope. Plenty of people have found themselves in similar positions and still managed to get amazing exam results. There are loads of things you can do to take some of the pressure off. The key is to make sure you’re well prepared so that when the day of your exam comes you’re as relaxed as you can be.

If you’re struggling with studying you might also like to check out our article on revision tips here. Otherwise, if you’re running out of time, read our article, ‘tomorrow is my exam’ here

Raise your concerns with your tutor

Lots of people find tests nerve-wracking, and having to speak in them can be even worse. It might be a good idea to raise your concerns with your tutor. They’ll be able to give you advice about what to expect. It’s likely they’ve helped other students in the same position, so don’t be afraid to let them know what’s going on. Talking about the exam should make you feel more prepared and hopefully relieve some of the anxiety.

Practise ahead 

You could ask your tutor about doing a few mock exams, so that you can get a real feel for what it will be like. Or you could ask someone in your class, friends or family to help. Even if you just talk through some of your revision, it should help you feel more confident. You can also achieve this by revising effectively and making a thorough plan. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re walking into that exam with the most knowledge possible.

Pre exam tips

  • Get a good night’s sleep for a few days before the exam. If your anxiety won’t let you sleep the night before then try to listen to music or read a book – at least this will take your mind off the exam and then you’ll be able to drift off. 
  • Eat well before and up to the exam. This’ll help you to concentrate and also has a positive effect on your mood.
  • Make sure that you’re as calm as possible when going in for the exam. Taking deep, steady breaths can help with this.
  • Have a chat with a friend before the exam to help you lighten your mood and relax.
  • Remember to have some water available in the exam as dry throats can be a problem when you feel nervous.
  • If you stall, or feel like you can’t continue during the exam, don’t panic. Take a moment, have a deep breath and then continue.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most people are nervous in orals; but the examiner is not trying to catch you out, they just want you to do your best.

Answered by bss on 25-Sep-2012

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exams