Nail biting, nausea, sweating, eczema attack, knots in your stomach, telling yourself you are rubbish and you’re going to fail – all signs of last minute exam panic, or ‘negative’ stress.
Good stress, on the other hand, can focus your attention, boost energy and allow you to channel your physical and mental capacities on the task in hand.
So how do you turn bad stress into good?
Firstly, of course, make sure you are well prepared. Be honest with yourself – have you revised enough? The less prepared you are for the exam, the more likely you are to lose it on the day.
Create a mental refuge
Find a place in your head where you feel calm and happy – it may be a beach, a forest, a particular room. Practise switching off by imagining yourself in this place several times a day and the easier you will find it to go there for a few minutes when stress is threatening to overwhelm you.
Relax your muscles
This only takes a couple of minutes to practise and really works. Sit comfortably, your back against the back of the chair, knees at right angles and close your eyes.
Look at your face, and then the rest of your body, as if from a distance, checking each bit is slack and relaxed: eyes, mouth, neck, back, arms, legs etc.
Either through your nose or mouth, it doesn’t matter, the key is to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out. Breathe slowly in, then out, in an exaggerated way - filling your lungs and letting your stomach expand/deflate. In between each breath count slowly to 2. Do this several times a day and before your exam - abdominal breathing calms the rest of your body.
Essential for banishing bad stress, you need to replace negative feelings with positive and visualise yourself succeeding. Think back to past successes – the day you learnt to swim or ride a bicycle or when you got your judo belt or your team won a match.
In other words, find a moment when you felt proud of yourself and felt on top form and bring this picture to mind when you turn over your exam paper or sit down opposite the oral examiner.
You can also try future positive thinking - imagine yourself going into the exam room, picture how it looks, picture yourself being able to answer the questions. Then picture yourself getting your results and yes, you have passed. Picture all this over and over again in order to instill the belief that you can succeed. Positive thinking can be very powerful.
Start practising your anti-stress techniques from today by adopting a gesture which you deliberately associate with banishing stress: it could be clenching your fist, crossing your fingers, touching your pencil case, rubbing your ear-lobe, for example. From now on, each time you speak to a teacher, get in a panic over your revision, feel stressed, use this gesture to remember your anti-stress techniques. The more often you do this before the exams start, the more effective it will be when you enter the exam room.