A coach was asking for advice for a young woman with ADHD who blanked as soon as she looked at her exams each semester. We know how that feels! Here are some tips for overcoming exam anxiety and getting the momentum going on tests (and in life).
"I had a wonderful Physical Geology instructor who gave us the first line of our blue book final essay: 'The surface of the Earth is heated unevenly.'This helped us kick start our engagement with the blank lined pages."
Can you create of a single sentence to get yourself started? Getting started can be the hardest part of an essay exam, and having confidence in the first lines boosts confidence and performance.
Are there key concepts that can be written in an outline in the inside cover of the essay exam booklet? This is often a great way to get started with writing a coherent essay. An outline also helps sustain momentum for writing during the exam. We know of students who got bonus points for a good outline if they ran out of time to finish their essay exam. The reader could see where they were going before time ran out by looking at the outline.
"Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
You may recall this little rhyme that helped us remember the year Columbus set sail from Spain. Are there some key facts or questions that are for sure on the exam that you can memorize with a memory trick or using your skill strengths? For example, "There are 5 things I need to know about molecules, one for each finger on my hand. They are... "
Our brain often blanks when we can't recall something, and trying has been shown in some studies to make this worse. Moving on to the next question can be more effective at helping the brain recall that thing on the tip of you tongue. Say to yourself, "This will come to me if I keep going."
Start with Success
"It's not about dwelling on what I don't know. It's about demonstrating what I DO know."
Another trick on exams to to start with answering all the questions you feel confident about and then going back through harder ones. This means getting easy points out of the way but also jump-starting confidence and momentum as well as releasing neurotransmitters that might help with getting motivated to start with the more difficult sections or questions.