Don't fall off the Yerkes Dodson curve

It's the time of year when many 16 to 18 year olds will be taking exams in the UK. For many of these young people this will be an intensely stressful period. As we have discussed anxiety in itself isn't bad or an illness and can be helpful. In order to perform well in an exam a degree of anxiety is necessary this is what makes us get up from watching cats on YouTube all day and do some revision.

The science behind how performance and stress / anxiety levels correspond was started by Robert Yerkes and John Dodson in 1908. They found evidence that increased levels of stress improved performance in difficult tasks but only to a point. There comes a point where more stress starts to cause increasingly poor performance. This and other evidence has given us what is now known as the Yerkes Dodson Curve or Law.

There are some people who could do with being a bit less relaxed about exams, but these are a minority; for most the risk is overshooting. At its worst the high levels of anxiety and stress around exams can act as triggers or risks for more serious conditions such as depression.

So what can you do to stop going over the top of the curve?

Well, there's lots of simple advice out there but broadly it falls into three areas:

Before the exam: Be organised, leave enough time for revision, be prepared, know when and where the exam is, take short breaks, take some exercise, get proper sleep and avoid stimulants. Also having lots of a small goals with a short deadline imposed by somebody else that take you through your revision plan is less stressful and more likely to be successful.

The exam: Get there on time, take a few seconds to relax before you start the paper, take short breaks during the exam to use 30 seconds of calm breathing or meditation. If you get stuck move on and come back.

After the exam: Plan to do something relaxing, don't carry out a post-mortem, if you have more exams ahead try to put those done behind you.

There's lots more useful advice here

Finally good luck to anyone out there who has exams.