What to Think About Before an Exam


What to Think About Before an Exam

What should students be thinking about the night before an exam (apart from their revision)? Are some thoughts more helpful than others? We’ve looked through the research from the world of sport to find 7 exam tips to help people achieve the right mindset before a big event.

  1. Positive Imagery – Visualising successful performance has been found to increase confidence. Spending time imagining a positive experience will also help students manage nerves. Pictures are better than words. Picturing yourself doing well has been found to be more effective at enhancing mood and reducing anxiety than telling yourself you will do well. It is worth noting that there are some potential downsides to daydreaming about your future success, as discussed here, but these relate to behaviour and self-control strategies over a long period of time. Thinking positively for a few minutes the evening before an exam (and once you've put in the hard work) shouldn't affect this, and it will help boost your mood.
7 Things to Think About the Night Before an Exam
  1. Remember Your Previous Best – Thinking about previous positive experiences will help improve confidence. Students should remind themselves of a successful exam to help them feel more confident about an upcoming one. They should think about what helped them do well in this previous exam and how they can apply that now. This meta-cognition is also a good skill to develop throughout the year.
  2. Remind Yourself Of Your Preparation – How well you have prepared for a task is an important source of confidence. Controllable sources of confidence, such as preparation, will lead to more enduring confidence levels. Getting students to remind themselves of the preparation work they have put in will increase feelings of confidence and control in the build-up to the exam.
  3. Focus On Yourself and Don’t Compare to Others – When students compare themselves to others, their confidence is dependent on those around them, and is not within their control. This is stressful and increases fear of failure. Alternatively, focusing on themselves and what they can control will increase confidence. Reminding themselves of what they can do will help them to feel more confident in their ability to perform.
  4. How You Have Overcome SetbacksResearch into mental resilience of Olympic champions has shown how overcoming setbacks has helped them deal with future challenges. Encourage students to think back to previous setbacks that they have had and what was successful in helping them overcome these.
  5. See the Exam as a Challenge, not a Threat – If something is perceived as a threat, it is more likely to cause stress. Athletes who reframe an event as a challenge, as opposed to a threat, increase their performance. Instead of thinking about the potential negative consequence of a failed exam, they should reframe the exam as an opportunity to succeed. The increase in stress caused by focusing on 'what if it goes wrong' will also hinder their sleep quality the night before an exam.
  6. Get a Good Night's Sleep – Sleep duration and quality have a significant impact on a number of factors associated with exam performance. Getting a good night's sleep will help students by improving their memory and concentration. If a student can't sleep before an exam it can have a negative impact on mood, with more focus being placed on negative thoughts.

For more help preparing for exams have a look at our page Best Ways to Revise - where you'll also find links to great blogs with tips on doing your best in exams.

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