Understand why you are freaking out about exams + a 3-step process to crush exam fears right now.
I’m going to tell you how to crush exam fears with a simple 3-step strategy but first comes some background. I heard from several of my awesome email subscribers about their biggest challenge as a student revolving around the fear of exams. Exam fear is common, and maybe you too have fear surrounding your college exams.
I struggled a little bit coming up with useful advice because I don’t have a lot of fear around exams and was having trouble relating.
And then life decided to take me off my high horse.
To offer the abbreviated version, I did some food testing to help my allergies (picture me as bubble boy). I knew to expect a list of foods in the mail I needed to stop eating for 6 months but had no idea what those would be. What I never considered was how LONG the list was. I swear the letter required extra postage it was so long.
When I got my very long, and very thorough list of foods to avoid, I went into a funk. An avoid life/procrastinate/watch tv/sulk kind of funk. Luckily I recognized this funk on the first day and I told my family to give me one day to wallow and then I would figure it out. A little wallowing can go a long way, right? 🙂
So how does this relate to you and your upcoming exams? Turns out my food funk was all about fear. I was able to turn things around and have been gladly sticking to my eating plan for the past two months. I am sharing with you the three-step process you can use to crush exam fears any time they crop up.
Step 1: awareness
The first step to any change is to be aware you need a change. I know my core personality and how I show up in my life when things are going well. Personal knowledge of yourself allows you to recognize the signs of things going wrong. Understanding your personal tendencies is a key skill for college success.
I love to create, and the first sign for me something was off is not being able to open up the computer and write for College Study Smarts. I was glued to the couch all evening and couldn’t force myself to go and create.
Your first signs something is off will likely be vastly different! To understand what to look for, map out a picture of what your thoughts, feelings, and actions look like when life is good. You might recognize something is off when you…
- haven’t exercised all week
- are eating too much junk food
- skip weekly calls with friends or family
- are extra crabby with your kids
Take the time to make a quick list of things to look out for in your life. What clues point you to figure out something is not right?
Step 2: Understanding (just say it)
Once you are aware of what is going on, you tell yourself to stop it. hahaha.
In fact, this is exactly what you don’t want to do. If you resist whatever you are feeling and thinking it will only get stronger and stronger.
Have you ever really wanted to eat some ice cream, and you have some in the freezer? You have the craving, your mind tells you that you don’t need it, it’s not good for you, etc. The more you resist the craving, the stronger it gets.
Let’s be real, we usually eat the ice cream.
When you resist something you are using a lot of mental energy in the wrong place. Want to blow your own mind? Next time you want the ice cream, take a breath and say to yourself, “I really want to eat that ice cream. I think that eating it will make me feel better. I really want to feel better.”. Laying it out for yourself in terms of what you want and why you want it is powerful. It is how we lean into a feeling or desire, and for me, it usually stops that craving immediately.
Because it’s never really about the ice cream.
Likewise, during my 24-hours of wallowing, I didn’t think about what I was thinking or feeling. I just wanted to avoid it by keeping my mind zoned out. I didn’t want to come to terms with what was going on, I wanted to resist it and find another way to feel good. Luckily, I didn’t stay in that place. I sat down to understand what I was feeling. Turns out I was sad because I love food! And I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to stick with such an extreme change.
Check out research showing that journaling about exam fears impacts GPA. Getting these thoughts out of your head allows your mind to focus on the exam itself.
Just Say it
You may already be aware of the fear surrounding your exams. Now it is time to understand what you are afraid of, and just say it. There is a lot of power in saying…
- I am afraid I might fail
- I’m worried that failing this exam means failing the whole course.
- Maybe I’m not smart enough.
Saying out loud what you are afraid of immediately strips away a lot of the power. It is also the first step to understand and crush exam fear.
Where does fear come from?
Are you ready for the terrifying source of our fear today? It comes from our…imagination.
Yes. I am completely serious. Hear me out…
When you are afraid of failing an exam it is because your imagination is creating a story about the future in which you fail the exam, the entire class laughs at you, you get kicked out of college, you are unemployed forever and your life is terrible.
I’m exaggerating just slightly, but I may not be far off from stories you have created for yourself. This creative writing is exactly what our brain does naturally. When I thought about giving up my favorite foods I unconsciously crafted this story of never being able to eat at a restaurant, slaving in the kitchen every day, being deprived constantly, and having a miserable life. My brain thought the story was legit, but it was an imagined future. It hadn’t happened, and it might not happen. Happily, I can report I’m two months in none of those things were accurate.
Own your fear, understand it is coming from your imagination, and understand it. Then it’s time to crush exam fears for good.
Step 3: crush exam fears with
Let’s recap quickly:
- awareness: know what your signs are when something is not right
- understanding: identify the specific thoughts driving your fear and know those thoughts are not facts
Now, let’s take this understanding and use it to really crush exam fears.
First, think through the worst-case scenario you are worried about. Don’t censor it. Even take a couple of minutes and write it down. It might look something like this:
I’m afraid I will fail this exam. When I fail this exam I won’t be able to pass the course. My professor is going to think I’m stupid. I need this class to graduate, so I won’t be able to graduate and without a degree I am stuck in a dead-end job. My family is going to be disappointed in me.
Next, ask yourself how else things could go. Tap into your imagination to come up with other outcomes.
I’m afraid I will fail this exam. I will have to do extra credit to bring my grade up. I will ask my professor for help and figure out how to get a better grade on the next exam. I will still pass the course.
I’m afraid I will fail this exam. I will study my best, I will ask for advice from my professor, and I will do my best work on the exam. If I fail the course I will take it again and I will do better. I will earn my degree.
Finally, take a breath and choose how you are going to think about things moving forward. All of these stories are imagined, so choose what feels the best to focus on. When you choose a more positive outcome to focus on the amount of fear surrounding your exams will diminish. The potential to crush exam fears is always inside you, in the way you use your mind. And don’t forget failure only exists in your mind.
To take your exam game to the next level, work on applying these two tips for test-taking that mean better grades.
How else do you tame your exam fears?
Try It Yourself: 5-10-minute Challenge
- Worried about exams?
- Ask yourself what you are really worried about.
- Write out your worst-case scenario.
- Write out an alternate scenario and imagine how things can go differently.
- Choose which imagined future you want to stay focused on. Which one feels better? Which serves you best?
- Not worried about exams right now?
- Spend 5 minutes and make a list of some signs you may be anxious and worried about your courses.