I'm currently a master student in computer science. I study at a school where we have only one take for the exam. I study really hard, yet I am never able to feel confident enough when the exams approach. I am nervous that somehow things will go bad and it only makes me perform worse. I tried studying weeks in advance and really going over all of the materials to feel sure that I know it, but it does not help me. I feel I have no power over what happens in an exam and I feel that I only have one chance that could lead to an ugly mark on my resume. How do I reduce the stress and the nervousness?
Nervousness in the face of uncertainty is normal. Ask any astronaut sitting on the launch pad. What you experience is pretty common. Overconfidence can also be a hinderance.
You seem to have good study habits ("weeks in advance"). But note that cramming the night before an exam is counterproductive for nearly everyone. If you are tired, so is your mind. And it will be focused only on what you studied last, rather than having a more general and nuanced sense.
One "trick" is to do something active in the last couple of hours before a big exam. Anything to get your blood flowing and let your mind rest. Even deep breathing as a calming exercise has benefits.
I also have a bit of a mantra that I use at the start of an important activity, such as an exam. "Some things are beyond my control. I can only do my best."
I can only tell you what works for me. My degrees were all in physics, nothing in any sort of mental health or self help. So take this for what it's worth.
Visualize yourself doing well on the exam. Think about sitting at the desk and blocking out all manner of distraction and disturbance. You can even build yourself little fantasies about the student in the desk next to you being fidgety and making a lot of noise, or some door somewhere is slamming constantly, or there is a thunderstorm. But your concentration bubble deflects it all. Practice this calmness in your mind before the exam. Then in the exam it's going to kick in automatically.
If you are allowed, go look at the exam room in advance. If not, then go look at a similar room. In your mind, picture yourself sitting in this room and being calm. Do it "movie special effects" style and add feature by feature. In your mind, add some other students. Add the prof or the TA's patrolling the space between the desk. Add the sound of the clock. Even go sit at the desk and imagine you are already taking the test. Imagine that there is a furious amount of distraction around you, but it bounces off your Teflon and you are all untouched and untroubled.
After that it all comes down to practice and confidence at the subject matter. You should definitely set yourself some problems to do against the clock. Get yourself used to doing problems under stressful situations. Try going to the cafeteria (or the Starbucks or whatever) where there is noise and distraction and maybe even people bumping your table or chair. Do your timed problems under these conditions. If you can stay calm and finish your timed problem while some barista is shouting "half calf latte with extra foam for Fred!" then you should not get nervous in the exam. But also try doing them in the library where everybody is supposed to be quiet.
Reducing Stress and Nervousness
- Begin to look at the exam as a game. It is a quiz and you like quizzes.
- Try to answer as many questions from the previous exam papers. This will add to your confidence.
- Pray for a calm and clear mind. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
- Focus on an imagined object for a short time when you start to feel stressed. This will help you relax.