How To Cope With Exam Stress

Exams are stressful- when you've spent months, even years studying towards a qualification the pressure is really on when it comes to exam time. While you're never going to avoid stress completely, there are ways you can cope and deal with things in a healthy way. You can get into a good frame of mind where the stress isn't making you feel unwell, affecting sleep or appetite in the run up to exam season. Here's what you need to do.

What to avoid
First let’s explore things that do not help exam stress. Drinking alcohol, poor diet and lifestyle choices such as staying up late will all make matters worse. Avoiding the work alogether and not planning will also cause more stress in the long run, if you're already behind and starting to feel overwhelmed go to your school point of contact and talk through your options. You may be able to defer or maybe may actually enough time to revise but you're just feeling overwhelmed and are underestimating yourself. It is useful to seek support to gain a rational understanding of your options as stress can make us think irrationally.

Work out exactly what you need to revise
Get organised, know what you’re doing and plan when you’re doing it. Gain an understanding on what the exam is about, the key subjects and knowledge you need. Also, work out what revision materials you'll need, things like paper, card, coloured pens and highlighters. Have a list of the different subject and obtain an old exam paper if possible. Ensure you confirm with the person who is supporting with the exam on your list of things you need to learn, to ensure you're on the right track.

Set a schedule and stick to it
Use a time table, a list or an app to plan how much time you need spend on revision each week to cover all of your topics. Be specific with times and aim to stick to them, for example you could aim to revise three topics a day spending an hour on each one. Set timers and treat these revision sessions like you would a class or a lecture and don't plan anything else in its place.

Use acronyms or rhymes to remember multiple points
Acronyms are useful for taking bigger chunks of information and making them shorter. If you have a list of points that need to be included in an answer for a topic, write them out as a list and then try and work out an acronym to remember them. This can help massively in an exam situation when you're under stress, the acronym can prompt you to remember extra points that you might have simply forgotten or overlooked otherwise where you have so much information running through your mind. Another way to do this could be with rhymes, play around with the information you have to make a silly sentence that rhymes. Trust me, I still remember my rhymes I came up with for school exams so it does work. The sillier the better as you are more likely to remember.

Keep going over information
Revision is called revision because that's what you do. You need to keep going over this information again and again until it sticks in your mind. One way to do this is to write all the information want to learn multiple times, writing things out by hand is a great way to get it to stick in your mind. You could make prompt cards, stick post it notes around the house or brainstorm ideas. The aim is to be able to recite all the information by heart so the more you look at it, read it and write it the more effective it will be. Keep testing yourself on how much information you have remembered.

Utilise exam practice tests
Have a number of exam questions written down in the style of the exam you're going to be taking, or have an old paper with the relevant topics to complete an exam condition practice run. Have one attempt then mark your answer with your exam revision notes afterwards, the more you practice the more confident and the less stressed you’ll feel.

I know not stressing is easier said than done, but stressing hinders your productivity. Use mindfulness or meditation techniques to manage stress. Take part in other activities that can take your mind off revision like sports or things you enjoy, as long as this doesn't involve drugs or alcohol. Exercise can reduce stress levels and help blood flow to the brain making it a natural cognitive enhancer. Talk to other students about the stress of exams, you might find you're not alone and this helps talking to others on ways they are managing, also to get tips and discuss topics which again helps you retain information. Be mindful to avoid things that are negative coping strategies, avoidance, not giving yourself time to enjoy yourself, it’s a fine balance. One last big final no, no, is using sleep time to revise. Sleep is crucial to a healthy mindset, use sleep hygiene techniques to have a healthy bedtime routine and stick to regular bed times and waking times.

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