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Five tips on maintaining calmness in the run-up to an exam

Anxiety before an important exam can make it extremely hard to focus and maintain motivation. In fact, I would say nerves, stress and anxiety are one of the main reasons why candidates fail to get the results they want and deserve. When we feel anxious or stressed, we can act in ways that are not beneficial to ourselves or our work. We may fall into negative patterns of thinking or of behaviour which impact on our concentration. In this post, I'm going to share five tips on how you can maintain calmness and focus as you move into the last couple of weeks before the exam.


  1. Make sure you are prepared This cannot be over-stated. Good, solid preparation is the best way you can ensure you are going to meet the exam in a positive state of mind. Of course, the best way to do this is to work with a teacher who is familiar with the exam and who can guide you in your preparations for it. Failing this, you need to use YouTube and other online resources to thoroughly familiarise yourself with the exam, the tasks and what to expect. The less mystery you face on the day, the more confidence you are likely to have so don't skimp no this vital step!

  2. Avoid last-minute studying Last-minute studying tends to be full of stress and the assumption that you don't know everything you need to. Ideally, you will be fully ready for the exam a week or so before hand so that you have some time to relax and review. By all means, keep reviewing language or practising speaking tasks; what you want to avoid is late-night study sessions because you are worried you don't know enough. This can be avoided with proper preparation, hence the importance of step one above! The last week or so, I recommend watching YouTube videos (in English!), Ted Talks or reading articles so that you maintain your connection with English without feeling stressed out.

  3. Look after yourself - eat, sleep and exercise It simply is not possible to function well if you are not taking care of your body's physical needs. Your body needs good food, rest and exercise and your ability to study well depends on having a body that is in good working order. It is a terrible mistake to assume that you can force yourself to concentrate when you are neglecting your basic physical needs. While you may believe that you should study all day without rest, in fact your study sessions will be better and more productive if they are interspersed with periods of rest, exercise and good food. Working for an exam is like training for a marathon so look after yourself.

  4. Positive self-talk Positive self-talk means saying good things to yourself. It's important because many language learners have very negative self-talk and this has a huge impact on their feelings towards themselves and their learning. This may not seem important, but if you are constantly telling yourself that you are not going to pass or you are not learning quickly enough, it will be much harder for you to motivate yourself to work. There are some examples of positive things you can tell yourself in the run-up to an exam below, but remember that your words are more powerful than mine and it's good to create your own positive statements to tell yourself.

    1. I am working hard and making progress every day

    2. I am learning new language quickly and easily

    3. I am improving my skills every day

    4. I am proud of my achievements and the way I have prepared so far

  5. Positive visualisation Visualisation simply means imagining something happening. You are probably already doing this with your exam preparation, but my guess is that you are imagining the worst! What will I do if I can't find the answer to the question? What will I do if I can't understand the examiner? What will I do if I don't understand the writing question? Worrying like this fills you with negativity and creates unnecessary stress and anxiety. Instead of picturing the worst-case scenario, you want to see yourself succeeding and doing well in the exam. Again, solid preparation is important as it will help you to develop strategies for problems outlined above. Combining this with taking a few minutes each day to imagine the exam going well will be extremely beneficial. When you do this, imagine the exam as clearly as possible:

    1. what can you see / hear / smell?

    2. who is there with you?

    3. how do you feel - make this confident and positive!

    4. how are you interacting with the examiner - again make this positive!

The more you do this, the more likely you are to be able to go into the exam in a positive state. This in turn will make it more likely that you will complete the exam positively and get the score you want.


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