Exam stress, like death and taxes, seems to be an unavoidable part of life.
Now, a little bit of stress can be good for you during the exam period. It can motivate you to work hard, and ensure that you are as prepared as possible.
But too much stress can be debilitating, engendering anxiety and stopping you performing at your best.
Stress during the exam period can take many forms, in both body and mind. The physical manifestations of stress include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Migraines or headaches
- Blurred vision
- Raised heart rate.
While psychological signs of stress might include:
- Your mind going blank
- Difficulty understanding things you know
- Irrational thinking about the exams
- Thinking failure is catastrophic.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s likely that stress is reaching levels that could prevent you from fulfilling your potential.
There are, however, strategies that you can use to help to manage the stress at exam time, aiding both your revision and your performance in the examination hall.
1. Recognise the signs
It’s important to recognise and acknowledge any symptoms of stress – and take a break. Powering through is only going to worsen the symptoms. If you are getting a migraine or finding your mind going blank when you are reading something you already know, step away from the revision. Take a break and go for a walk for 10 minutes to allow the stress to dissipate and allow you to refocus.
2. Get some exercise
Regular exercise is a great way to de-stress. Building a regular session at the gym, a run, a swim, or whatever your preferred form of exercise is into your revision timetable will not only make your feel physically better and more energised, it will also help clear your mind. Consider meditative exercises like yoga that help you control your breathing and finesse your focus.
3. Sleep well
Exercising is also an excellent way of helping you sleep well, which is an essential part of any effective stress management plan. If you find that your sleeping patterns have become disrupted, that you have trouble getting to sleep, say, or having difficulty waking up, try to instigate a relaxing bedtime routine. Treat your bed as a sanctuary, rather than another place to revise. Take time away from your revision before going to bed to help you wind down. And avoid stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and Twitter for several hours before sleeping.
4. Eat a healthy diet
Tempted to reach for the chocolate while you’re studying? Try almonds or an apple instead. A healthy diet will help give you both physical and mental energy. Have a good filling breakfast to start the day well, and eat a balanced diet, rich in whole foods and fresh fruit and vegetables. A healthy diet will help fuel your body and your brain.
5. Make plans
Planning your revision time is important for minimising stress. A plan helps you monitor your progress through the required material, and to see where you might need to focus your efforts. It also makes scheduling breaks and time for exercise and relaxation easier.
Make a plan for the day of an exam, taking out any inadvertent potential for stress. Make sure you know where you need to be and at what time. Plan to get to the exam location early, and plan what you will wear. Layers are good as you can remove or replace them in response to the temperature in the exam hall. If you are comfortable, it’s easier to stay focused on the task at hand.
6. Forget perfection
Of course, you want to do your best in your exams – and that is excellent motivation – but don’t place undue expectations on yourself. Even if you don’t do as well as you would like, it’s not the end of the world. Try to keep things in perspective by looking at the bigger picture. There are many roads that can take you to the same end point.
7. Don’t analyse after the event
Avoid the temptation after an exam to conduct a post-mortem with your fellow students. You can’t change the answers you put down, so discussing them and potentially raising doubts in your mind about your performance, is only likely to raise your stress levels, making it harder to stick to your plans for the remainder of the exam period.