Deep breathing and focusing on the task at hand works for some people. But what if staying calm is impossible, and your inability to be calm adds to your anxiety?
There is another strategy.
Until now, your exam anxiety has been your superpower. Your worries about failing have given you the energy to study in the evening, after a long day at work. Your anxiety has motivated you to sit yet another Beal mock exam, while your friends and family are relaxing at the weekend.
On exam day your anxiety is still there, but it is no longer helpful.
Now worries about failing are holding you back, elevating your heart rate when you need to sit quietly, taking up your working memory with negative thoughts when you need to analyse exam information under pressure.
That’s why well-meaning family and tutors – including us – will tell you to keep calm and get the job done.
But being calm is the opposite of anxiety. It takes huge mental effort to convince your mind and body to be calm, and even if you do, it is a lie. You are not calm. Your career is at stake.
So here’s a different tactic. Don’t be calm – be excited.
- Be excited that you are going to show the examiner how much you know about Beal.
- Be excited that you have a good exam technique, cemented in practice, to demonstrate your analysis and report writing skills.
- Be excited that this is the start of your career, and you are going to be a bloody good Chartered Accountant.
- Be excited that this is the last ICAEW exam you will EVER have to do.
Change that nervous energy into positivity and let it flow into your exam. Let that elevated heart rate give you the power to take control of the exam exhibits, and show the world what you can do.
If being calm on 4 November is not for you, don’t try to be. Be excited.
In case you’re wondering, there is some science behind this blog – it is inspired by a paper called Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School. We think it’s a great option for managing exam day anxiety - let us know if this approach works for you!
Brooks, A. W. (2014) ‘Get excited: Reappraising Pre-performance Anxiety as Excitement’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol 143, no. 3. pp. 1144–1158, [Online]. DOI: 10.1037/a0035325.