Ever had your mind blank out during an important event, such as a job interview, when on stage, or, say, at the CFA exam?
Your mind blanks out because of your nervous energy, which triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Blood rushes to the large muscles — your arms and legs — so you can take action. And blood leaves the parts of the brain that aren’t helpful in a fight or a race — parts of the brain that govern memory and verbal skills. Which ironically is what you need in these situations. Keep up, evolution!
It’s a vicious circle: Fear and anxiety makes you forget stuff. Which makes you more afraid and anxious. Which makes you less able to remember what you studied earlier. Which makes you stop writing. Which makes you aware that you may be running out of time. Which makes you panic even further. And so on.
So learning to calm down, especially during CFA exam day, can be an incredibly important tip to keep in mind. Calming down breaks the cycle and makes you reset your mind, enabling you to think rationally again.
So how do we apply calming techniques in the CFA exam setting?
The exercise:Close your eyes and inhale slowly for 3 seconds. Breathe in from deep within your diaphragm – fill your lungs. Hold it for a while, then exhale for 3 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Why it works: Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure
The exercise:Sit up tall, focus on your scapulae (shoulder blades) try to get them to touch each other and then shift them down as far as you can, hold for 5 seconds, relax and repeat. Alternatively (or additionally) slowly roll your head loosely around a few times each way, and slowly flex your fingers one by one.
Why it works: When you’re completing the exam, you’re constantly in the same, static position, straining your back, neck muscles, eyes and fingers. Stopping the exam for a short while to focus on relaxing all of them will bring you to a more physically relaxed state and allows your mind to also take a break from the exam.
The exercise: Ask for a bathroom or water break. Take a quick but deliberate walk to the water cooler and drink a sip of water (or the bathroom). Park the exam aside in your mind for a while – you’ll get back to it soon – and let your mind wander. When you’re done, walk back and continue the exam.
Why it works: Sometimes stress can cause frequent urination, but that’s not what we’re addressing here. A change of environment (even if it’s a slight one) will help your mind reset itself and help you take a break from the exam mentally. You’re also addressing another need (to pee or refresh yourself), and when you go back to the exam, your mind would be a lot more rested. Win-win!
Keeping on top of your body and mind are really important to do well in the exam, so I hope these tips will help you in your exam day. But health tips on 300 Hours doesn’t just apply to exam day. Check out these other articles that will help you keep your body and mind fighting fit even before exam day arrives:
- 15 Easy Superfoods to Turbocharge Your Brain for the CFA Exam
- How Exercise Can Massively Improve Your Exam Performance
Do you have more tips on how to keep calm during the exam? What’s your keep-healthy secrets? Share your thoughts in the comments below!