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Say goodbye to exam nerves

28. March 2019 / general

You have prepared well and are ready for your exam. However, a few days beforehand, you start getting stressed about it: You don’t sleep well, feel sick and break out in a sweat. And during the exam itself, your mind goes completely blank. All that effort is wasted! But it doesn’t need to be that way. We can learn mental strength and develop tips and tricks to ensure we can sit an exam with confidence.

Feeling a degree of nervousness before an exam is positive, since this causes hormones to be released (especially adrenaline), making your heart beat faster and accelerating your breathing. As a result, more oxygen reaches the blood and the brain and you have plenty of energy. You are fully focused and capable of performing well. So what is the problem? Your fear can take over and dominate you. The possible consequences include problems sleeping, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, shaking hands and much more – such as your mind going blank during the exam. Despite having prepared so well, you suddenly can’t remember a thing! Often just the thought of the approaching exam is enough to trigger these symptoms.

Contrary to what many people believe, exam nerves are not caused by a fear of failing an exam. Instead, they are triggered by what experts refer to as ‘social evaluation anxiety’. It is a fear of losing face or being mocked by others – in other words, of anticipated shame. Everyone needs esteem and recognition – but some need a great deal of it, especially if they feel that they only gain recognition by performing well. You then have exaggerated expectations of yourself, which are potentially heightened by pressure from your environment and bad experiences (e.g. being made to feel stupid by a teacher during childhood). The people who are most at risk are therefore perfectionists, control freaks or those with low self-esteem. From my coaching experience, I can say that there are many such individuals.


A horror movie in your head

These people envisage a whole series of horror scenarios before sitting an exam. The result is a veritable horror movie, which then keeps running through their mind. They feel as if they are at the mercy of these scenarios and have a sense of being unable to act. However, that is not true because the things we think of have a strong influence on our mental state and body – both positive and negative. As the American car-maker Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” And the German mind coach and trainer Antje Heimsoeth rightly commented: “If we constantly think about what we have done or could do wrong, it doesn’t exactly improve our performance.“

Negative thoughts therefore actually make us feel bad. Exam nerves trigger a vicious circle: The greater the fear of failure, the more likely it is to happen – which of course seems to confirm the fears and increases exam nerves even more. Fortunately, however, this also works in reverse: We can make ourselves feel good – especially through mental techniques and relaxation exercises before and during the exam. Having the right strategy for studying is also important. My tips therefore cover all of these categories. I have divided them into: Tips for studying, pre-exam tips, and tips during the exam.


Tips for studying


Pre-exam tips:


Tips during the exam:

Good luck!


© Claudia Kraaz

Buch: Claudia Kraaz – Nachhaltig leistungsfähig bleiben
Nachhaltig leistungsfähig bleiben – Praxis-Tipps für den Business-Marathon

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