Keeping Calm in Your Finals

You have spent the last few months working hard and revising and the day has arrived for your final exams. The panic and pressure are mounting. How can you stay calm to ensure you perform your best and pass with flying colours?

Truthfully, I found my final vet physio exams the scariest I have ever taken but, I still managed to survive to the other side. To help you pass I am going to share with you some of the tips which helped me to get through and qualify as a Veterinary Physiotherapist.

The Night Before

  1. Take a break. Once you have done your revision for the day take a break, give your brain a rest and ensure it is ready for the morning. Before going to bed I just had one last quick read over my notes to ensure that I was ready but after that let it go.
  2. Have a healthy dinner. Rather than reaching for the snacks make sure you have a good healthy dinner. Fruits, vegetables, and high protein foods e.g. nuts will give you plenty of energy without the sugar crash. You need to feed your brain properly for it to function well.
  3. Get ready for the morning. There is nothing worse than having to rush around in the morning and all this is going to do is increase your stress levels when they will already be high. Make sure your bag is packed, clothes are ready and you have plenty of food and water for the day ahead.
  4. Get some sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is not going to help your ability to concentrate in the morning. Trust me, I have worked night shifts, and no amount of caffeine is going to help you recover in time for your exam. This is a big exam and you need to be feeling your best so stick to your normal routine.

In The Morning

  1. Eat Breakfast. I know it can be difficult to eat when you are nervous but you need to ensure your brain and body are well fuelled for the day ahead. Even if you just have a healthy smoothy make sure that you eat something. Also, make sure that you have a drink and that you are hydrated. Dehydration can affect concentration and performance more than you think.
  2. Run through your notes. It may sound silly but I ran through my notes on the morning of the exam just to make sure I had not forgotten anything overnight. If you need to take some time to revise and reassure yourself this is fine.
  3. Make sure you have plenty of time. There is nothing worse than having to rush because you are running late for an exam so give yourself plenty of time to arrive on the day. For me rather than drive up on the day I preferred to stay in a hotel or b&b close to the university. Yes, it may have cost more but I know that if there had been stuck in traffic on the motorway this would have been far worse for my stress levels.
  4. Empower yourself. For me to feel confident going into the exam the best way was to put some of my favorite tunes on whilst getting to college. You could choose something empowering (think going into battle) or something relaxing. Whatever you prefer but rather than revising, I found this helped a lot more. If you have any lucky charms then take them. It may (or may not) only be a placebo effect but if it makes you confident that’s all that matters.

In the Holding Room

Holding rooms are a strange experience. No contact with the outside world, exam nerves are building in the room and you notice your friends starting to have a nervous breakdown. All the while your fellow students are slowly diapering off like lambs to the slaughter. This is a very strange environment and takes a new way of learning to cope with stress levels. As I was always near the end of the register I have had many times sitting for long periods of time in holding rooms and these are the tips I have learned.

  1. Use your time wisely. You can use this time to do any last-minute revision and as your friends are present why not get together and test each other. For practical exams, this is the perfect moment to really ensure that you can clearly and confidently talk through the various parts of your exam.
  2. Try to take a break. As much as you want to revise you don’t want to burn yourself out to quickly so pace yourself and make sure you are taking time to rest and recover before your exam. There is only so much you can do last minute.
  3. Deep Breathing. If you are finding the stress too much to cope with taking some deep breaths. This can help with relaxing yourself, the more you stress the more this could affect your performance. If you need to stand outside the room to get away from the pressure head to the toilet or ask if you can stand outside the room. Just a small time out can be enough. If you used any aromatherapy (see last weeks post) then make sure you have these with you to help calm your nerves
  4. Stay fuelled. I have said it many times already but staying hydrated and feeding your body is so important. Loss of concentration is so easy when you are hungry or thirsty so make sure you have plenty of food and drink with you.
  5. Plan your time. Give yourself plenty of time before your exam to make yourself comfortable. Take a break, go to the toilet (you also cannot concentrate when you need to go), and have lunch or a snack. It is so important to make sure that your mind is in the right place before entering your exam so make sure that you are comfortable.

In the Exam

  1. Take some deep breaths. The first thing I did when entering the exam room is to take a few deep breaths. This helped me to relax and focus on what was ahead.
  2. Take your time. Don’t feel like you need to rush straight into the exam. Take time to compose yourself and prepare for what is ahead of you. Do the same between each exam station and also during the exam. Even though you are timed there is plenty for what you need and your examiner will tell you when you are getting close to the time. It is far easier to make mistakes when you are rushing so remind yourself to slow down.
  3. Look Forwards, Not backwards. When you go into the exam don’t think about all the things you don’t know or what your weakest areas are. You are never going to be perfect at everything and every student wishes they could have revised more. You can’t change the past but what you can control is the exam you are about to go into. Really focus on what you do know and the areas you feel stronger in. You want to show the examiner how great you are and if you show you are confident and in control of the situation you will feel a lot better (and more likely to pass). I love this tip because it is transferrable to similar situations you find yourself in such as an important interview or when you see your first client.
  4. Don’t Panic. If you look at the paper and have a sudden panic that you can not remember how to do something don’t let this get to you. Switch your focus to another task in which you feel more confident and then come back to this area. You might be able to remember more but if not just give it your best shot and take a guess. An educated guess can often be right.
  5. Go with your gut. Following on from before if you are unsure of how to do something go with your gut feeling. More often then not your gut will be right.
  6. Adapt to your dog/horse. It can be very frustrating when you can’t get your dog to lie down in the correct position or the horse won’t lift the right leg. My best advice is don’t fight them but adapt to what works for them. If they won’t lie down then try standing. If they won’t allow you to use the side you are demonstrating on ask your examiner if it’s OK to use the opposite side. Remember they can pick up on your nerves and they could also have had several treatments on that side and feeling a bit more protective.

Finally, the exam is over. Congratulations on getting through. Give yourself a treat, you defiantly deserve it. You need something to look forward to completing your Finals so take a break and relax before you get your results. It is only natural if you want to talk through the exam with your friends but be considerate if others don’t want to. The most important thing to do now is to give yourselves a bit of downtime.

Hopefully, you have found these hints helpful. If you have any other good tips then leave some comments below. I wish you all the BEST OF LUCK in your exams.

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