Sitting an exam is incredibly stressful for most people.
Our fight, flight or freeze response can kick in just at the mention of exams and it doesn’t seem to matter how capable we are they send a wave of sickness and fear through us.
This week is SATs week here in the UK (exams for 7 and 11 year olds) then we are straight into GCSE and A level season. As a teacher I have been on both sides of this horror, believe me it can be just as nerve wracking for the teachers as it is for the students.
How can journaling help? Surely that’s just more writing and there’s enough of that during your exams!
Well, yes, it is writing but it is a very different type of writing. It isn’t essays and long questions, it is free and it allows us to process how we are feeling. We may even solve problems during journaling.
When we journal we actually relax the part of our brain that we need to engage during exams and other forms of writing. We don’t worry about grammar, sentence structure or even spelling, we just allow the words to spill out onto the page.
By sitting down and allowing the words to just flow onto the page we allow our unconscious brain to process things that our conscious mind can’t. It reduces the tendency towards negative thoughts, which is perhaps the biggest issue during exams, you convince yourself that it isn’t going to go well and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. When you acknowledge your worries and write them down, your brain is able to move on from that fear. In the same way, when we write down our shopping list we are able to stop repeating what we need over and over.
Want to improve your results? Journal!
When we write about our anxieties and worries, they are automatically eased, in the same way our troubles seem less when we talk to someone. There is so much evidence now though journaling improves mental health, and even physical health (both of which we need to be successful in exams).
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that students who journalled for just ten minutes before an exam, about what was worrying them, improved their results by a whole grade. This is poweful stuff.