Embrace the nerves
In a world of fine margins, even the most fleeting lack of focus due to nerves can cause performance to suffer. Hurdles cleared with ease in practice are suddenly unleapable obstacles on race day.
Similarly, every teacher will know students who are more than capable of passing their exams, but who fail to achieve their potential because they let nerves get the better of them.
Rather than trying to eliminate these nerves, Fletcher suggests that teachers should focus helping pupils to control them and even use them to their advantage.
One of the most important ways to do this is by ensuring students have the confidence to know that they can perform on the day of the exam. Fletcher says that a good way of doing this is with ‘simulation training’, such as holding mock exams that are actually harder than the real thing.
“This sort of exam testing will mean that even if nerves do affect a student’s performance, they should still be able to perform as required, because the test itself will seem easier by comparison than what they were doing in training,” Fletcher explains.
Analyse every aspect of performance
This is another key area of sports psychology. The success of the British cycling team has been helped by their obsessive performance analysis looking for marginal gains. Similarly, the process of reviewing the minute details of a 100m runner’s start technique can bring significant race-time benefits.
Fletcher says that it’s important to discuss with pupils who don’t perform well in these tests why they felt it went wrong, so that they can understand how to improve. This should be collaborative and dig into every detail. Small things can make a big difference.
Rehearse the situation
Fletcher says that time should be given to rehearsing the exam day itself as closely as possible, just as athletes run through competition day. This enables the individual to focus their minds on the task at hand, rather than worrying about how to get to the exam hall or being overawed by the surroundings.
“I know a diver who was part of the synchronized dive final at the Olympics,” he says. “He and his partner rehearsed their entire finals day the week before the event, from the breakfast they ate, to what time they got the bus to the venue, to the exact length that they would have to wait between dives – all so that they knew exactly what to expect. They won the silver medal.”
“This is definitely a tactic that can help with exam preparation,” he continues. “Of course, some of it is out of teachers’ control, like what a student has for breakfast, but they can still do things like take the pupils to the exam hall so that they’re familiar with the location. This way, they at least won't feel intimidated by the exam situation itself."
This is an edited version of an article in the 18 March edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here