Exam stress can push you to study harder for your examinations so that you are able to achieve the marks you’ve set your sights on. However, when exam stress becomes overwhelming, it can stop you from being able to retain information or take your exam with confidence.
We want to help you out, so we’ve collected some helpful tips and strategies on how to overcome exam stress while you study and take your exams!
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Tips for dealing with exam stress while studying
Half the battle of overcoming exam stress is preparing well – and that means studying hard!
However, studying hard often comes with a lot of stress which can hinder the information you absorb, and even the general quality of life you experience during the exam period.
Here are 10 key tips to help you manage stress during exam season:
1. Plan out your studying before your exams
A good way to get a grip on exam stress is to plan out your studying and prioritise your hours according to subjects, workload and exam dates. This will help you lower your anxiety because you will know when something needs to be a priority and that you will have enough time to retain important material.
Draw up a study schedule that includes the dates of each of your exams, and include how many topics you need to cover for each exam. This should help give you a good idea of the amount of time you need to dedicate to each exam topic and when you should start studying.
A helpful way to give yourself a sense of progress is to tick off studying specific topics as you complete them. This sense of accomplishment will help you reduce your stress and improve the way you feel you study for an upcoming exam.
2. Take regular breaks while studying for exams
As a part of prioritising your time for your exams, it’s important to take time for breaks and fun activities while you’re studying.
While taking a break during exams may sound counterintuitive, it is important to not overwhelm yourself with your workload. It can be easy to become consumed with studying during the exam period, which in turn only worsens your stress levels.
To help you structure your study breaks, you could use a specific studying method such as the POMODORO method.
The POMODORO technique encourages you to use your studying time effectively by breaking sessions down into 25-minute intervals.
You then provide yourself with regular 5-minute breaks, which are known as pomodoros. After taking four pomodoros, you can take a longer study break consisting of 15 or even 20 minutes.
3. Study with fellow students for exams
Revising with peers is an effective way to study for your exams. This study style allows your brain to better absorb your notes through thoughtful discussions about your learning material and testing each other on key points.
Studying with others also provides emotional and social support which can reduce stress and provide confidence.
4. Focus on your health during exams
During the stressful exam period, it’s common to forget about your health. Luckily, there are several ways that you can manage your health better and take care of yourself during exams:
Exercise can quite easily give you that extra boost to study more and retain more information.
Doing physical activity will get your blood flowing, and your heart pumping, releasing endorphins, which is proven to help with stress.
Exercise will also help you feel more alert once you have worked out. The reason why exercise is so effective is that the hippocampus—the part of our brain responsible for learning and retaining material—is also receptive to two proteins produced during exercise.
There are tons of options for exercise—whether it’s kicking a soccer ball around for a bit, going for a walk or having a session at the gym. Enjoy your exercise and use it to release your stress and spur you on.
Stick to a healthy diet
Eating the wrong food will increase your anxiety, so sticking to a healthy diet is key during exams. Many healthy foods increase brain function and decrease stress levels. It’s probably no surprise that fruits and vegetables are the main foods you should be eating when you are going through a stressful period.
If you have to have a treat, then try dark chocolate rather than sweets or normal milk chocolate. Chocolate above 70% cocoa can produce endorphins, increase blood flow and provide a bit of caffeine that may help give you an energy kick while studying.
Avoid pulling an all-nighter
We know you may often feel that you need to do an all-nighter before an exam but don’t do that. Staying up all night to make sure that you study all of your notes won’t help, it will only make you write worse.
A lack of sleep will also make you tense before and during the exam. If you have prepared for exams and prioritised your time well, then you shouldn’t need to cram before your paper and that should help you get enough sleep.
Try to find out how many hours of sleep you need to feel refreshed and stick to that throughout the exam period, as this will help you feel less stressed and study better.
5. Set realistic goals while you study
When you are preparing for your exams, it is key to be honest with yourself. Set goals that you know you can achieve as this will help you put everything you need to learn into perspective. Once you have set realistic goals, you can work to maximise your productivity and decrease your anxiety.
Beat stress on the day of the exam
The first step to dealing with exam anxiety is preparing stress relieving practices while you are studying, however, that probably won’t stop you from experiencing anxiety on the day of your exam.
Feeling a bit anxious before an exam is completely normal, but there are a few things you can do to better manage your stress and write your exam better.
6. Have a good breakfast on the day of your exam
On the day of your exam, you need to have plenty of energy. Eating the wrong breakfast could lead to you crashing mid-exam, hinder your focus and may lead to increased stress and fatigue. Make sure to eat healthy, energy-packed food like eggs or oats.
7. Drink water before and during the exam
It is not surprising that being dehydrated negatively affects the brain. Make sure to drink enough water before and during your exam. Start with a glass of water with breakfast, and make sure to bring a bottle of water to join you during your exam. You may need more bathroom breaks, but during an exam, this can provide a helpful break for you to clear your mind and consider your progress.
8. Manage your caffeine intake on the day of the exam
Drinking caffeine is a part of studying, but on the day of the exam, you need to manage this. Caffeine keeps us awake but it can also increase feelings of anxiety and stress.
However, if you are an avid coffee drinker, it’s a bad idea not to drink any coffee, as this could cause headaches or worsen your stress levels. If you drink coffee every day, then have a cup with breakfast to help kick-start your day.
9. Arrive early on the day of the exam
To help you minimise any extra stress factors, get to the exam early. This will help you make sure you’re not flustered and you have time to breathe before you start writing. Take a moment outside of your exam room to take in some fresh air and gather yourself before finding a seat.
Arriving early will help you get your mind in the right place right off the bat. It is imperative that you take your time when writing an exam and that you maintain a steady pace. This will help you better understand what you need to do, and it will increase your chances of answering the questions correctly and in a timely manner.
10. Don’t rush when writing your exam
When you receive your exam paper, take your time to read through the questions carefully. Don’t worry about answering the questions, just read through the paper and understand what is required of you, as this is a good skill to have when writing your exam.
Once you have read through the paper take a moment to breathe, calm yourself with a few deep breaths before you start writing. Remember to breathe throughout your exam time. If you are feeling stressed at any point, take a moment to take five deep breaths then continue.
If you don’t understand something on the paper, ask for help. There will usually be an invigilator with an understanding of what is required on the paper.
It’s best to ask all of your questions during reading time, but if you are struggling during the writing period, raise your hand and ask your invigilator quietly for assistance.
Taking your time during your exam will help you relax and answer questions better. The ultimate goal is not to finish your exam as fast as possible, but to get good marks for your paper(s).
Get help with exam stress
If you have tried all of the above techniques and you are still struggling with immense stress and anxiety, which is worsened by exam periods, then you should speak to a professional.
Your mental health is incredibly important, taking the time to talk to a professional (like your college’s guidance counsellor) about your stress can be immensely helpful
If you are stressed about anything else surrounding your studies, there will be people in positions at your institution that can help you. If that stress is financial, Fundi can help, by providing funding for textbooks, fees, accommodation, and more.