Whether contemplating sitting their first or last AAT assessment most students will suffer from a degree of exam nerves.
It’s important to realise that feeling exam nerves is completely normal. In fact, not feeling those nerves would be a more worrying sign of complacency and over-confidence.
In this article, Gareth John BA FCA Chief Executive of First Intuition Cambridge offers advice on how you can channel those nerves and succeed.
These are challenging exams and can make a big difference in your career. Nerves are your body’s way of telling you that something is important to you.
Top tips from AAT students
I recently asked a number of AAT students for their thoughts on good ways to minimize exam stress, and I have put together some of the most common tips they gave me.
Overall, the most common advice was to use controlled breathing to ward off stress and panicky feelings. Spending 3 minutes breathing slowly in and out sends a powerful message to your brain to calm down and regain control.
Below is a summary of some other great ideas they gave.
In the final couple of weeks leading up to your exam
- Being fully prepared for the assessment you are going to sit is an important way to avoid getting stressed. The process of reducing exam nerves should start a week or two before you go anywhere near the assessment venue.
- Practice breathing deeply and slowly for 3 minutes at a time on a regular basis.
- Revise for 45 to 60 minutes at a time before taking a short break.
- Studying ‘little and often’ is better than trying to study for a long session in one go.
- Turn your focus to mock assessments as you get closer to the date of the real thing. The more mock assessments that you complete under timed conditions, the less stressful the real thing will feel.
- Make sure your diet and sleep are both regular and healthy.
- Relaxation apps like Headspace or Calm can be very useful.
- Have a ‘home team’ of friends and family who you can share your stresses with, and who can help take the pressure off you for jobs like shopping or school runs.
- Don’t study all of the time. Do other things like spending time with family or taking a walk.
- Reward yourself with a treat when you hit key targets in your study plan.
The day before the exam
- Don’t try to learn anything new at this stage.
- If you are sitting in a physical assessment venue make sure you know where the exam venue is and how you are going to travel there. Consider a ‘dry run’ if you haven’t been to the venue before.
- Prepare your ‘assessment kit’ ie pens, calculator, bottled water, chewing gum.
- Get some exercise, some fresh air, and some green space.
- Go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. You really won’t improve your performance by staying up late doing last-minute cramming.
Immediately before the exam
- Plan to arrive near the venue at least an hour early in case of travel problems.
- Have a routine to calm you down and make things feel familiar. I used to sit in the same little café before each of my exams having beans on toast and fresh orange juice.
- Breathe deeply and slowly for 3 minutes if you start getting stressed.
- Visit the bathroom.
- Avoid comparing how much revision you have done with anyone else.
During the exam
- Breathe deeply and slowly before starting.
- Remind yourself that failing an assessment really isn’t the end of the world and that you will give it your best shot.
- Write down any equations or acronyms you have memorised that might be useful.
- Spend a few minutes looking through each of the tasks you will be dealing with.
- Start with tasks that you feel most comfortable with. Leave harder ones until later.
- Take the time to read each task properly, clearly identifying what they want you to do. I think it is worth reading each requirement two or three times.
- Take a ‘time out’ to breathe deeply and slowly if you find yourself panicking at any point.
- I used to ask to go to the bathroom if I started getting overwhelmed. Even if I didn’t really need to go it gave me a few minutes to clear my head.
- Try to avoid second-guessing yourself and constantly changing your answers. Trust yourself that your first answers are likely to be good.
After the exam
- Don’t spend ages dissecting the exam and your answers; it’s done now so try to forget it.
- Relax and celebrate getting through it!
- If you have another assessment to sit soon afterwards then it’s time to start focusing your attention on preparing for that one.
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Gareth John is a qualified chartered accountant and tutor at First Intuition.