Applying Visualisation for Exams

Visualisation (i.e. mental imagery) is a technique used extensively in high pressure jobs such as with athletes, musicians, doctors, acrobats and soldiers. It involves imagining oneself in a real life environment performing an activity engaging most of one’s senses (e.g. sight, hear, feel and smell). When done properly, visualisation can be a very effective way to practise given it activates the same parts of the brain used in actual performance.

Studies have shown visualisation to not only be effective in decreasing anxiety, but also with enhancing self-confidence, concentration and ultimately performance.

Exam Performance Pressure

There is no doubt that most students will feel a considerable amount of pressure to perform in their exams. Students may:

  • Feel nervous and anxious,
  • Be required to manage adversity and unforeseen circumstances, and
  • Manage all of the above with an unwavering concentration for the task at hand.

Effective study will not necessarily prevent students feeling this performance pressure. This is where visualisation can help.

Let’s Teach Students How to Apply Visualisation

There are four key steps that students can use to help manage performance pressure.

  • Immerse in the moment – The first step is to accurately imagine the exam environment ahead of time. A vital consideration is to engage all of the senses, being as detailed as possible. For instance, using the ‘mind’s eye’ to see the room (e.g. imagine the rows of desks), what will likely be heard (e.g. the air conditioner in the background), what will be smelt (e.g. the musky/stuffy room you’re in), and finally, the associated feelings (e.g. anxiety and apprehension).
  • Relax! After being immersed in the moment, the next step is to take several deep breaths. This is an effective way to ‘short circuit’ the physiological effects of anxiety; helping regain control and composure. Although feelings will not be nearly as intense compared to the time of the exam, practicing calming down will nevertheless be an important skill to master for when nerves are at an all-time high!
  • Imagine setbacks and how to overcome them – Visualising successfully completing the exam with great ease is not necessarily the best preparation. To make visualisation more useful, one is best off contemplating the possible things that could throw ‘their game’. For example, being stumped by a question or running out of time. Planning and thinking through the solutions for these setbacks in advance will ultimately help for when things don`t go to plan (and let’s face it – this often happens)!
  • Visualise the outcome and success – Finally, picture being in a state of relaxed control, feeling happy with the obstacles that have been overcome. After all, enticing a feeling of control will help with your concentration during the main event! Furthermore, visualise how it would feel to receive a good mark and reap benefit from the hard work and preparation invested into the exam.

Visualisation is a powerful mental preparation technique that improves well-being and performance. We trust that the above steps will help students better manage the inevitable performance pressure that accompanies exams.

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