What to do about Exam Jitters, especially when you are over 30?
After interacting with hundreds of test takers for exams such as PMP certification in Malaysia, wherein the average age is 35, we have collected a set of best practices that anyone planning to take an exam should be aware of.
Exams are stressful for people of any age. Young students who are used to taking exams on a regular basis form coping mechanisms that then become built-in for a longer term. However adults take fewer exams, and hence, don’t have a built in coping mechanism.
Therefore, candidates must be aware of their anxiety and prepare to take steps to recognize, prevent, and reduce it, as the case may be. A moderate level of anxiety is healthy. It can sharpen performance and give candidates that extra boost they need for their preparation.
However, there is a thin line between anxiety and panic. Managing anxiety is much easier than panic. There are two broad areas that must be kept in mind.
- Mental preparation
- Physical preparation
Mental preparation includes planning, executing, and monitoring the tasks required to prepare for the exam.
Accepting that a long journey comprises of many steps is a crucial part. One cannot reach the goal in a day. Setting realistic goals and staying on the path with determination will get the traveller to their destination and ease much of that dreaded anxiety. The biggest trap to watch out for is waiting for the last moment to do the studying.
Such cramming will only magnify the stress levels sending candidates over that thin line into panic territory, which is much harder to manage. The mind can only absorb so much information at any given time. Studies show that a healthy adult has an attention span of not longer than 40 minutes on one task.
Taking breaks while studying helps the brain to assimilate information easier. Mental aspects aside, the body has physical responses to anxiety, which is called a fight or flight response. When a threat is perceived, the body prepares to flee the scene, or to attack. The warning signs are shallow breathing, faster beating of the heart, sweaty palms and so on.
This response gives one the sense of being out of control, and if unchecked, will lead to that dreaded panic state. Breathing in deeply and slowly counters the shallow breathing, and thus restores the body to the natural state. Another area to remember is the day before the exam. This day should be a relaxed one.
Doing activities that have a calming effect is encouraged. As far as last minute preparation goes, perhaps going through the key points will be sufficient. Learning new concepts is a definite no-no, and might create that fight or flight response. A good night sleep is absolutely essential as a tired body and mind is definitely not going to perform at an optimal level. These are some of the steps that candidates can take to reduce anxiety levels before an exam.