28 August 2018
Exams are an almost unavoidable part of young people’s lives – and, inevitably, some people perform better than others.
When the results are negative, it can be easy to come up with thoughts such as “I will never succeed in my life”, “I’ve disappointed my parents” or “everyone is better than me”.
FIXING YOUR THOUGHTS
To fix these types of thoughts, you can engage in a process known as “cognitive restructuring”. This has been used by psychologists who adopt the cognitive behavioural approach to help people who experience anxiety or depression. According to this approach, people experience such problems because they keep dwelling on negative thoughts to the extent that they become addicted to such a thinking pattern.
To start, you can use a Thought Record Sheet to record your feelings. This might include ranking your feelings and thoughts over a particular day – such as sadness, 80 per cent, and irrational thoughts such as: “I will always fail.” This can help to identify any thinking errors you make, such as over-generalising or catastrophising.
You can also use some challenging questions to test the validity of your thoughts, such as: “Do I have a crystal ball in front me that allows me to see the future?” You can then use all of this to hopefully come up with more adaptive responses, such as: “Passing A-level exams is not the only route to success.”
Using this technique can feel like a battle between the irrational and the rational aspects of one’s self – where each side tries to convince the other about its rightness. That’s why by focusing on the evidence you can test the validity of your automatic thoughts based on facts.
The battle between the irrational and the rational selves is ongoing for most people, but knowing how to challenge the validity of one’s thoughts can help you to remain realistic most of the time. These techniques can hopefully help you calm your nerves ahead of results day, but should also help you with any decision-making you have to do once the results are in.
• This is a condensed version of an article that first appeared in theconversation.com