It is the end of Semester 1 here at The Australian National University (ANU). Students are working hard to finish their final assignments before they go straight into studying for their exams. At ANU there is no full study week before exams start and so it can be a very stressful time if you have exams on the first few days.
I don't test well. I stress about exams past the point of practicality. I haven't taken an exam in several years but when I was I came up with some strategies to get through them. These strategies I try to pass onto any of my students (I am a teaching assistant in Ninja Physics Workshops) who are worried about not finishing an exam.
I'm not saying you should panic in an exam but it is totally normal to. If you are like me you sit down to read an exam in reading time and it's like you never attended a lecture! The hours you spent studying have been erased from your memory. In reality though what may be happening is that the stress of sitting down to an exam, that may help to pass or fail a subject, has started your 'fight or flight' response. When this kicks in all thought pretty much stops. However, knowing that this may be happening gives you a chance to get out of it.
Accept the fact that you are panicking. If your 'flight or fight' response starts don't try to start your exam. Blood has moved from supplying your brain and so you won't be at your peak. Take the time to panic, let yourself worry, cry, believe the world is ending. But breath. Give your body time to let the blood go back to your brain. Don't think about the exam, think about what you're going to have for dinner or something like that. You'll start to notice that those awful thoughts of dread that you'll fail at life will fade and become less intoxicating. They may not go away but you'll find yourself able to say 'That's just stupid!'. This means that you are capable of higher thought processes again. Hurray!
Calming yourself down can take time. I believe it is more important to start an exam calm then it is to start when everyone else does. When you can think properly you will find exams to be much less intimidating than if you attempt to work on them while panicking.
When you take an exam you will always do the best you can. Remember that when you leave the exam hall. Don't start comparing your answers with others, just remember you did the best you could and set your sights on the next challenge!
Funnily enough bribery doesn't just work on other people. It can also work on yourself. If you sit in an exam and you just can't make yourself do a problem try bribing yourself to finish. Say to yourself 'I will do the best I can then I will go to the pub!'. It surprising how well this can work on yourself!
Exams are never really something to look forward to. However, if you happen to be taking Physics 1101 at ANU this semester you'll be pleased to know that Paul Francis has themed the exam to make it more interesting.
Good luck to all students taking exams and lecturers writing them!