The term ‘exam stress’ can be broadly defined as a feeling of anxiety over one’s performance in the exams. The results and reaction of parents and friends all weighing upon a student creates this exam stress. Exam stress or anxiety may cause the following:
- inconsistent content coverage; trying to memorize the textbook; binge studying; all-night studying before exams
- reading without understanding; cannot recall the material; not making revision notes; not revising
- feeling little or no control over the exam situation (rather than knowing and applying exam strategies
- negative thinking and self-criticism (rather than being one’s own best friend)
- irrational thinking about exams and outcomes
- irrational beliefs “If I don’t pass, my (family/boyfriend/girlfriend/friends) will lose respect for me”; “I will never get a Degree.”
- irrational demands “I have to get at least a 2.1 or I am worthless.”
- catastrophic predictions “I’ll fail no matter what I do—there’s no point.”
It is obvious that examination stress is a no no for any student even though every student desiring to become excellent will experience exam stress. It is an unavoidable part of student life that can be a tough nut to crack. Remember, stress exists for a reason and you can choose to let it be your downfall or use it to drive you to improve your work.
The difference between a student who allows stress to overwhelm them and someone who uses it to push them harder is what they do when they are put in such situations. Instead of giving in to exam stress, here is some advice on how to minimise it.
1. Start studying early
Start studying before your lecturers announce the exam. Even before that, read over your notes after each class to make sure you understand them. Put the notes in your own words. You can prepare even more by thinking of questions that your teacher might ask on an exam. Write the questions down and answer them after your class is finished. This will make studying easier.
Weeks before the exam proper, practise writing. This would be an actual simulation of the examination itself. Plan your revision and complete it in time. This will give you a sense of achievement and build your confidence. While revising, vary subjects and their difficulty so you don’t get bored or disheartened. Set realistic targets of what you can achieve in the time available.
Spend as much time on recall as on reading. Practise by writing answers as you would do in the exam. This will help you remember the important points when you answer each paper.
Also practise writing answers under exam conditions. Take three hour tests, without a break in between, preferably at the same time as that of the exam. This will help your body clock adjust to the examination time and conditions.
3. Have a plan to manage your time
Cramming all night doesn’t usually work. Plan your study time ahead so you’ll feel confident for the exam. Too much material and very little time leads to anxiety. Instead, create a reading schedule and plan your studying with regularly scheduled study sessions about 50 minutes long separated by 5 – 10 minute breaks. Within your break, have a snack or go for a walk. Study so you understand the material and not just to memorize it. It will also help to study in a place where you can concentrate without distractions.
4.If you think that “anything less than a 2.1 means I’ve failed” then you are creating mountains of unnecessary stress for yourself. Aim to do your best but do recognise that none of us can be perfect all of the time. So relax your nerves. When we’re stressed we sometimes want to eat junk food or worse become depressed. but feeling relaxed will actually make you feel better.
It is also important to try toget enough sleep. For some people, this is something that’s always put on the long finger especially if you are trying to get the most out of life in the university. Some students actually say that sleep is for the week. The benefits of a proper night’s sleep can never be underestimated. Most importantly, sleep helps your brain to assimilate new knowledge into your long-term memory so that you can recall it when it comes to test day. Anyone who has tried to concentrate with half a night’s sleep can also testify to improved focus with better sleep.
5. Let it Out
Sometimes you just need to talk to someone, other times you need to shout it from the rooftop or scream from the top of your lungs. If you find that you’re still stressed, talk to someone you trust, whether it’s a parent, teacher, school counsellor or friend. They will help you put things in perspective. Speaking to a family member or friend can highlight the bigger picture for you and empower you to rise above the exam stress.
6. Break Free from Distractions
I bet you don’t even realise the number of times you check Facebook, Instagram or whatever your vice is? When you add it all up together, it amounts to a significant waste of time. It can be hard to detach from your life outside of studying but keeping the end goal and timeframe in mind will ease the process.
7. Visualise success
Most importantly, Visualise your success. This one might seem a little out there, but sometimes it helps to imagine yourself being successful in your papers. Think of yourself writing the exam and knowing the answers. Visualize the A+ on the paper after writing the exam. When you imagine yourself being successful, you’re more likely to succeed. But don’t just visualize passing- you actually have to study!
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis
So show up and show out. Prepare for your examinations but most importantly, keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now but, in the grander scheme of your whole life, they are only a small part. Interrupt negative thoughts with positive ones. Examples: “I can do this”, “I will do my best”, “I can pass this test”, “I will focus only on the question in front of me.” “I have done it before, so I can do it again.” Actively challenge your irrational thoughts. Life will be worth living regardless of this exam. Respect yourself for taking this course and getting this far, regardless of the outcome.