After your final exams, the sleepless nights, stress-induced panic and, if it's your thing, caffeine and sugar binges are all over, right? That might be true but now you have to wait for your results. That can be a long, excruciating wait. Sometimes the pressure of waiting for your results feels worse than what you felt before sitting the exams. Find out how to do your best in an exam and stay off procrastination. Waiting for your exam results is stressful but letting stress cripple you or, at least, overshadow everything from enjoying time with friends and family to contemplating your future is counter-productive. That goes for every kind of stress at any stage of living, not just waiting for exam results. What should you do while you wait for what you fear may be an axe to fall? Your Superprof offers these tips for keeping that pre-results day anxiety (and, indeed, any type of anxiety) at bay.
What You're Feeling
Besides the normal competition of school - social pressure, struggling for the best marks and trying to puzzle out which career would best suit you, school-leaving exams/college entrance exams such as the SATs and ACTs in the US and the GCSEs and A-Levels in the UK consume most of our waking thoughts and energy.
In the run-up to the exams and the in midst of them, students focus on little else.
That pressure cooker is not just about exams, either. You might labour under the pressure of parental expectation; indeed, your whole family could inadvertently make things harder for you by saying things like "But you'll do great, we know you will!" or "Our Sally's always been the smart one...". Needless to say, the fear of failure and of letting down all of those people who believe in you is enough to crush your spirit. Fortunately, now that exams are over, though, there won't be... won't be what, exactly?
How much of what you feel after your last exam finishes is stress over your results?
After months of constant focus on a single goal - doing well on your exams, suddenly, you have nothing to focus on. That abrupt sense of dislocation - of vacancy; having nowhere to go after months of rushing to get there can be as unnerving as the relentless push to achieve. Nature abhors a vacuum; so do humans. That's why, typically, we seek to replace something gone with something new that's of the same or even greater calibre. Our ongoing exams stress is a manifestation of that - even after exams are over, we fret over them. How did I do? How could I have answered questions better/faster? What will happen if I did poorly? All of this worry is counter-productive. Continuing to worry and stress over an aspect of your life that is now completely out of your control sets you up for a vicious cycle of negativity. In the echo chamber of your mind (and likely reverberated throughout your social circles), wondering what marks you'll end up with... well, it's a nothingburger.
Instead of extending the stressful mental state you lived in for months, find a new direction.
After all, what's done is done. As much as you might like to, you can’t go back and change your answers or retake entire exams (yet). There is also no point checking out unofficial mark schemes or constantly reviewing your answers in your head. From personal experience, I can tell you that doing so only makes your anxiety worse. There are much better ways to fill your mind and spend your time.
The Very Best Way to Avoid Post-Exam Anxiety
If we accept the idea that in the post-exam letdown, we strive to find some equally impactful emotional experience to consume us, we also have to believe that we have a choice in whether that experience will be positive or negative. For the record, wallowing in the relief of no longer being under such pressure is an open door for further worry - remember, we all seek to 'fill' ourselves with like-experiences.
The best course of action to take while waiting for your exam results is to stay busy.
You can continue to study if you'd like; after all, sitting exams does not mark the end of your academic career and, even if you don't get the marks you aimed for, you will (likely) have a chance to retake a test or two. If revision doesn't strike your fancy, how about going to work? If you are a young student especially - you sat your GCSEs or ACTs, you may find that getting a little bit of work experience will help you put your exams into perspective. After all, you know that passing exams is important because everyone says it is but you won't know for yourself exactly how important until you get some real-world experience. Statistics show that adults are returning to school in record numbers; it's not because they missed the halls of academia so much they decided to enrol at university. 'Real' life can be hard; it is difficult coping with the financial demands of living with few resources afforded by low-wage work. Nobody knows that better than people who eschewed higher education when they were young only to now realise that financial stability demands a university degree. All of this is academic. You can truly learn this lesson only if you experience firsthand what it's like for people to struggle with limited resources by performing unskilled work. If working in a shop or a restaurant doesn't suit you, how about volunteering? Offering your services - as a child-minder, as a helper to the elderly or offering support in your community for anything that wants doing is a fine use of your time and an excellent way to develop your character. You may even volunteer as an academic coach, giving advice to young students on everything from coping with online lessons to giving them feedback on their homework assignments. Students commonly spend summer holidays doing good deeds - and at no time in recent history has there been a more dire need for goodness than now, in this COVID era. But don't beat yourself up if neither volunteering nor working for wages is your thing (yet). You have a lifetime of earning your pay ahead of you; perhaps you prefer to take a little time for yourself right now. Perhaps you are an avid practitioner of a particular sport - rowing, football, tennis... If so, practise it assiduously. If you've not been particularly sportive, now is the time to consider doing so. You might go for something you can do solo, such as CrossFit, swimming or riding a bike, or you may finally pursue your long-held passion for the martial arts - karate, jujitsu or Thai boxing. The bottom line is: now that you're done with revision and feeling stressed over your life-changing ordeal, you can undertake another life-changing event: a pivot to positivity, fuelled by good deeds and physical activity.
Is All of That Enough?
Realising why you continue to feel stress after your ordeal is over and finding ways to keep yourself busy means you're going in the right direction in coping with the wait for results but it might not completely rid you of any questions you might have about your future or any other anxieties you may suffer. With no feedback coming anytime soon - students have to wait for months for their grades, you may discover a craving for help and support of a different kind. Talking about our experiences helps us to put them into perspective, to help us not feel alone in our struggles and to bask in the acceptance and trust that shared confidences create. There is so much benefit to be had from talking things out! Have you talked with your parents/caregivers, your friends, your teachers, school counsellors - a counsellor independent of your school? Have you shared with them your hopes and dreams - everything that might be realised should you get a great result? Have you told them how much you fear those same dreams getting shattered by a few bad marks?
If we keep our feelings bottled up, they soon turn into the anchor that weighs us down.
Talk about your worries. Talk to anyone; a friend, parent, neighbour or anyone you trust; don’t keep it bottled up. It is better to let your anxiety out slowly and at your own pace instead it being released spontaneously, finding yourself out of control. Even if talking is not your thing, you need to get those feelings out. Write them down - your fears as well as your hopes and dreams. If you've long been keeping a journal, you know the catharsis writing can bring and if you've never before written a diary, now would be an excellent time to start. If you're not a writer, you may choose to draw or illustrate your emotional stew. Creating art in any form can bring a release of pent-up feeling, allowing you to feel refreshed and invigorated. Why not try a technique from the film 'Jab We Met'? Write down (or draw) your fears, anxieties and stressors down on paper. You may then 'torture' them as they torture you: burn them and then flush their ashes down the toilet. I know it seems odd but anything is worth a go, always provided you do it safely. If even such an extreme (but admittedly fun) measure does not bring you any relief, consider talking things over with a mental health professional. Profound anxiety is nothing to laugh off; in its worst forms, it can be downright debilitating. Should you feel that the quality of your life is in serious question, waste no time in seeking help. You might ask your GP for a referral or, if you'd prefer to find your own way, you can give Childline or Samaritans a call.
What to Avoid When You Look for Stress Relief
After undergoing any meaningful ordeal - be it a term at university or the tests that will allow you to enrol in a degree programme, it's common to let off some steam. In fact, it's not a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, young adults tend to prefer risky or outright dangerous behaviours that could have long-term consequences on their health and well-being. Pulling all-nighters, this time bingeing on your favourite streaming services rather than going on a study binge can have a bad effect on your physical and mental health, even if you're a night-owl, because watching the telly is a passive affair; it involves no activity or human interaction. Besides those two factors, getting enough sleep does wonders for your emotional stability, mental acuity and physical healing so, for an all-around solution to rid yourself of stress, go to sleep! Note that studies show the average teenager should try to get about 9 hours and adults need roughly 7 – 8 hours sleep. What if you decide to binge on something else - something more toxic? Some people use alcohol and/or illicit drugs to escape personal pressure. The trouble with that is, once the drug of choice wears off, what you were trying to deal with is still there. Escaping is not the same as coping; to cope with what you have to deal with, you need to be at your very best - a state that is hard to maintain if you are chemically impaired. What about a retreat into the virtual world? As digital natives, we feel most comfortable in cyberspace. Phones/tablets in hand, we talk with our peers, take in the world around us and undertake fantastic quests - as gamers, as influencers and as bloggers/vloggers. Many students have found a home and a voice in The Student Room. It's a great forum to discuss school-related issues and problems that every student faces; you can even get answers to your most pertinent questions and find feedback on something you posted in the past. Be very careful though, of our beloved Room and other online forums: make the Results Day threads a no-go zone. Reading how great or poor everyone thinks they have done and rehashing the ordeal, in general, will only serve to stress you out.
Final Tips on Waiting for Results
Every test you took causes its little bit of worry about its result but acknowledging that you did the best you could and accepting that 'a done bun can't be undone' will go a long way toward releasing you from the need to be so hyped. Make that assertion your foundation for moving on, and then:
- Fill the void left by stress release with healthy activities - working, volunteering and even further study if you can keep the lid on anxiety are all excellent 'void' fillers. You may also consider taking up a sport or finding another pastime.
- Lay your burden down by writing about your thoughts/feelings and talking through your worries with someone you trust and respect. However, beware that online chat groups could do you harm, especially those that set up comparisons and belittle or bully students who say they might not have done well.
- Always keep your health and well-being at the forefront. Don't engage in dangerous or risky behaviours; instead, be positive. The big benefit to cultivating a positive attitude is that it lowers stress - a pretty useful thing when it comes to results day.
- If you are struggling, why not do something as simple as smiling? Studies show that when you smile, a chemical called endorphin is released into your brain and the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. So the more you smile the less stress stressed you become!
- Make 3 plans: first, write down your best-case scenario on results day and the options it gives you and then, write another plan addressing what you think is realistic and then, an all-out worst-case scenario. You will find that there will still be plenty of options for you.
- No matter your results and which plan you must follow, plan a reward so that you have something to look forward to.
Hopefully, you will find these tips useful. If you have any suggestions or advice that you want to share - or if you want to offer support to other students, please make use of the comments section below. If you failed an exam recently, you may want to read our article on how to cope with exam failures. We also have a published article on managing exam stress that may interest you.
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