7 easy steps to help you beat exam overwhelm

By  •  Updated: 11/15/22 •  7 min read

Have you ever experienced this anxiety feeling the closer you get to the CIMA exam day? I know I did. It is commonly believed that little stress can be good for your productivity and, to be honest, I agree with that. Deadlines always give us that extra push we need to do something.

But we live in a very stressful world and we are exposed to huge amounts of stress every day. So if you add up all the stress from work, pressure from your family, your own ambition…. Adding that additional stress factor being the CIMA exam is sometimes a bit too much. Instead of being motivated, you just feel wasted, super tired. Who knows, maybe the next panic attack is coming.

What are the symptoms:

  • you think about having too much to do,
  • not enough time to do it all,
  • and not knowing what to do next or even where to start.

Have you been there? If so, welcome to the club! You are not alone!

What happens when you experience the overwhelm?

Your effectiveness flies out of the window and you get torn as to how you can fit in different tasks without doing everything with only half your focus and effort.

Trying to move quickly between the tasks is the least effective way of working because each time you change topic, you have to refresh your memory about what you already know, what stage you were at when you last looked at it and what you need to achieve before the exam.

The more you move from task to task, the more time you spend on reviewing rather than doing.  Remember my article about your preferred learning style or how to recall more?  You need to mix different learning styles if you want to recall more information before your exam. If you usually read silently, try to read it out loud, write down the most important facts using your own words. And, of course, the most effective way is just doing. Let’s take OT exams (like P1, F2 or E3), if you practice many questions before your exam, you are familiar with the format and that boosts up your self-esteem and confidence. You know that mind can do wonders – if you feel confident, you are more likely to pass, to succeed in whatever you do in your life!

Therefore, it’s crucial you know how to deal with overwhelm when it arises and in the rest of this blog article I’m going to talk about the 7 steps to overcome this problem to leave you feeling more relaxed yet more purposeful as the exam day gets nearer. The first 3 are rather “strategic”, the other 4 are rather generic.

1. Calm down, slow down

Rushing can only make things worse.

When the stress response is activated, it interferes with our ability to think straight, to respond calmly and wisely to what ever arises and to be creative. Plus it feels uncomfortable. Whatever we have to do will be easier if we can slow down all the stress reactivity that’s happening in the body and mind.

This may feel counter intuitive at the time but when we consciously slow our movements down, slow our breathing down, it gives the message to our brain that we are no longer under threat. This will help us regulate our emotions as we move through the day and to feel way more in control. So when you notice yourself speeding up, pause take a few breaths, walk a bit slower for a bit. Notice how the mind responds to this.

As someone who has a strong habit of rushing I challenge myself and you, if you are up for it, to spend one day not rushing, just to see how it feels ?

Meditation is one of the most effective ways to take a break and see your stress from a different perspective. Practicing meditation is another way to maintain focus while improving both mental and physical health to reduce pre-exam stress.

2. Plan your study routine

This may not be a big surprise but what is shocking is the amount of students who discount the benefits of creating a personal study plan. I have written about it and gave some examples in the free ebook on How to pass a CIMA exam. In my opinion, spending a bit more time upfront can save you a massive amount of time when you are executing your tasks. Just remember about those times when you just rushed to do something without giving it enough thoughts? Were you lost a bit somewhere in the middle? I’m sure you were. With some initial effort, you can become more productive and motivated each day you approach your study by understanding your learning objective and progress.

3. Have an end goal in mind

You will have plenty of situation when you just want to give up. But just imagine your end goal: PASS on the CIMA paper that the administrator from the Pearson Vue’s office gives you. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? Good! Recall that feeling when you feel down and want to throw the CIMA books through the window 😉

Or if somehow that doesn’t really work on you and you still want to throw the books through the window, think that they are pretty heavy and you can literally kill someone 😉 Ok, that’s my strange sense of humour, but hey, at least you smiled!

4. Break Free from Distractions

I bet you don’t even realise the number of times you check Facebook, Instagram or whichever social media you are addicted to. When you add it all up together, it amounts to a significant waste of time (sorry for being so blunt here). It can be hard to detach from your life outside of studying but keeping the end goal and timeframe in mind will ease the process. We recommend the SelfControl website blocker.

5. Try to Get Enough Sleep

For some people, this is something that’s always “the second priority”, that soehow you never get to execute… The benefits of a proper night’s sleep can never be underestimated. Most importantly, sleep helps your brain to assimilate new knowledge into your long-term memory so that you can recall it when it comes to test day. Anyone who has tried to concentrate with half a night’s sleep can also testify to improved focus with better sleep.

6. Listen to Classical Music

Listening to music can create a positive and productive environment by elevating your mood and encouraging you to study more effectively and for longer. Classical music is recommended as the BEST type of music to boost your brain power but ambient music can work too. Check out the playlists on Spotify to easily find what works for you.

7. Eat Dark Chocolate

That’s my favourite! Believe it or not this is 100% true. Eating dark chocolate, which is over 70% cocoa, fights the stress hormone cortisol and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. Plus chocolate releases endorphins which act as a natural stress fighter. It is healthier than milk chocolate and you don’t put on weight so much as compared to milk chocolate.

And to finish off with a video, this is what I found on the YouTube about exam anxiety – a video with a little humour 🙂 Enjoy!

Okay, so do you feel any better having read that? Are you ready to beat overwhelm and nail these exams?

Leave a comment below to let me know. Also, feel free to share what works for you and if you have any other further suggestions.

Want to better prepare for you CIMA exam by practicing relevant exam-like questions? Check our free-demo and realise how much those online practice tests can help you.