Overcoming exam nerves on my APM PFQ journey

Milly Gresty, Overcoming exam nerves on my APM PFQ journey

Having worked for Training Bytesize as Head of Customer Success for more than four years, I am in constant contact with customers to support them through their training and qualification journey.

However earlier this month I found myself on the other side; I was the one taking the exam!

Gaining qualifications in project management is an important aspect of my job here at Training Bytesize; it puts me in the best position to support customers through their leaning experience.  Plus, it gives me the unique opportunity to review the whole training process and see how, as a business in a competitive market, we can continually improve to ensure we are the go-to project management training provider.

The APM PFQ is a popular course because it’s a first step into the world of project management, so a great course to complete because we have so many customers coming to us for the first time through this route.

The classroom training was everything I expected; as a small group of just four students we had an excellent trainer to student ratio and could benefit from the attention we needed, plus the quality of trainer we had made me feel instantly at ease, as though we were all in this together.

The food was delicious too!  A little added benefit of training with Training Bytesize is how we look after you throughout the course; you have access to fresh tea, coffee, hot chocolate, flavoured teas plus a range of cold drinks throughout the two days, and lunchtime was a delight – we had a meat, fish and vegetarian option each day (the chickpea curry was my favourite) and enjoyed desserts like fruit tart and chocolate puddings, yum!

But for me these positives were outweighed by one negative; exam nerves.

It’s over eight years since I last sat an exam and wow, I was out of practice.  Despite reading and revising for hours with the pre-course materials, listening intently to the trainer and taking pages and pages of notes, I was still worried.

I felt stupid saying anything.  I was an adult; surely I shouldn’t be panicked by the word ‘exam’?  I was totally embarrassed to bring it up, but then I realised the other people on the course might feel like this as well but are too scared to say anything.

So I took a deep breath and said it; “I’m worried about doing the exam”.

John was our trainer for the two days, as with all our trainers he is renowned for being approachable, supportive and personable.  He took time to explain that exam nerves are completely normal; he explained how to deal with them constructively and reassured us all that the mock exam the following day would help us to prepare.  Phew, I started to feel at ease.

I went back to my hotel room that night, crammed like mad but felt OK.  The following day came, I passed my mock exam (hurrah) but then the real thing started.  I sat there, panicked by the words ‘you can now begin’, and the exam nerves kicked in.  I flicked through the paper, my mind a total blank.  With sweaty palms I decided to answer the questions I knew, but then what?  What was I going to do?  Blind panic set in.  But then I remembered everything John had said.

After the exam the journey home was a bit of a blur, I was exhausted by the intensive learning experience.  Monday morning came round quickly and when I got to the office I had to explain to the team how the course had gone.  I started off with the good news; the food was excellent!  But then I had to confess that exam nerves had gotten the better of me, however John’s advice had ensured that my panic hadn’t taken a complete grip and I told them about his advice.

John is like all our trainers; hand-picked by Training Bytesize staff based on their approach to training and the exceptional pass rates they produce.  Each one is kind, helpful and cares about those who are on the course.  They even share their mobile number so customers can ask specific questions outside of the classroom.  It is these little things which resonate through the whole company and remind customers that Training Bytesize is family-run.

So what did John say that helped me so much?  I must admit it’s not rocket science, but if they’re good enough to help me I hope you can take some learning from them too:  So here they are; John’s top tips to deal with exam nerves:

  • Eat – while you may be feeling queasy prior to an exam, eating well will ensure you are not distracted by hunger pangs during the exam. Our Chairman wrote an interesting blog on capacity for decision making earlier this month which highlights some very interesting research linking to this, read it here.
  • Breathe – take a deep breath in and count to seven, exhale and count to 11, and repeat. This short exercise will steady your breathing and calm your nerves, plus focusing on the counting will empty your mind of exam nerves so you can focus on the questions.
  • Trust – when we get nervous we tend to doubt ourselves, so go with your gut instinct when answering questions. And if you have a question you really can’t answer just skip it and come back to it later; it’s better to finish the exam with one question missed, than mull over one question and not finish the exam

Update – Milly passed!

Congratulations Milly, we’re so proud of you!

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