How To Overcome Exam Stress
Exam time can be a really stressful time of year. But there are a few things you can do, even at this late stage that will help you manage your stress and do your best in the exams.
Before the exam
Make a plan. “It’s important to get yourself organised,” says Ben Wilkes of the University’s Counselling Service. “Sit down and make a list of the things you have to do to get ready for your exams.” Once you have your list, decide what needs to be done first. Prioritising your work makes it much easier to manage, but be realistic. “Don’t overload yourself from day one, or you’ll always be fighting to catch up. Make a plan you know you can achieve. You’ll feel great when you meet your own goals.”
Study when you perform best. “Some people perform best in the morning and others are more effective at night. Think about when you get the most out of your studies and plan your time around it” says Ben. “And try to avoid too many distractions. Turn your phone off, log out of Facebook and concentrate on revising. It will pay off in the long run.”
Set yourself goals and rewards. You are working hard: you deserve a treat! Work on one thing at a time and finish it before you move on to the next task. “Before you start anything, decide on a reward for completing it. Maybe it’s a snack, or a DVD, or twenty minutes on Facebook. When you finish, enjoy your reward, decide what you will do for your next treat and then get back to your studies.”
Look after yourself. Eat regularly and try to have a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Avoid burning out by taking regular breaks every couple of hours or so and doing something different. Catch up with friends and family, walk the dog, or just relax for half an hour, but try to keep yourself active by scheduling in some exercise every day. A walk around the block does wonders for your concentration.
Rest is just as important as revision so make sure you get plenty of sleep. “Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get into a routine,” says Ben. “You could also cut down on caffeine, alcohol and other drugs to help you get a proper night’s sleep.”
Be prepared. If you aren’t sure about something, ask someone. Talk to your friends, lecturers and tutors. Make sure you know what you should be revising and what to expect when you go into the exam. The night before, pack up everything you need for the following day, and double-check the start time, date and venue. Once you are ready, get a good night’s rest.
On the day
Arrive early, but not too early. Hanging around before an exam will only build the pressure. Stay calm and focused, and keep your distance from others who are stressing out. And don’t forget to bring some water with you to take into the exam with you.
Stress is normal. “You are bound to feel a little overwhelmed during an exam – it is usually an indicator of your motivation to do well!” says Ben. “Acknowledge that it’s part of the process and you will be fine.” Take a couple of long deep breaths at the start of the exam and read the paper thoroughly before you start your answers. Make sure you understand what you have to do before you begin.
Remember you have plenty of time. If you can’t concentrate or you find your mind wandering, take a couple of minutes to compose yourself. Take a couple of deep breaths, have a drink of water and find your focus again before carrying on. “A good way of regaining composure is to spend some time controlling your muscles. Clench your fist and then concentrate on releasing your tension through your hand. Remind yourself how you can control small things and the rest will come naturally.”
Take a break. If you really find yourself struggling in an exam, raise your hand and take a toilet break. Splash your face with cold water, and sit back down calmly. Slowly read the next question and carry on with the rest of the exam.
The hardest things to overcome are our own negative thoughts, especially around exam time. It’s easy for them to creep into our heads, especially when we are under pressure. Before you know it they’re the only voices we can hear in our heads. We often exaggerate the bad things, and these can quickly turn into irrational fears: “It’s too hard”, “I’m going to mess it up”, “I’m a failure” and “I’ll get kicked out of uni”. Sound familiar?
Remember you got where you are because you worked hard and learned well. Exams are just a chance to show how good you are. If you find your inner gremlin whispering doubts in your ear, give yourself calm, rational reassurances: “I’ve done plenty of tests before”, “I’ll do my best”, “I’m just anxious: it will pass”. Anticipation is usually worse than the event. You’ll be fine – just keep calm and do your best.
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