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Exam Stress – Meet it, Beat it, Conquer it

In 2018, we might have hoped for a more innovative, nuanced and personalised approach to testing than the old-fashioned desks in rows, pen to paper, 2 or 3-hour long assessments that we all have to face at some point in our academic careers. Alas, there’s not so much as a whiff of a hope of change coming any time soon, and so we all must face the inevitable – the dreaded exam.

Whether you’re just getting used to the exam process in termly assessments at school, or you’re all-too familiar with university demands, exam stress has probably become an unwelcome visitor on your academic calendar.

Unfortunately, we can’t banish exams, but we can at least ease the stress that so often comes along with them. We know following advice is often easier said than done, but keep these pages for your reference, give it a go, and let us know how you get on.

Think bitesize

I am a self-confessed queen of procrastination, and this has always been my worst enemy when it comes to studying for exams. I leave everything until the last minute, and crumble with nerves the night before any big exam or deadline. So, TYV readers, here I present to you a case of ‘do as I say, don’t do as I do!’ If I could change one habit, it would be this. It seems obvious, but your brain will retain information that you return to over and over again. So, invest in a nice notebook or folder, and revise on a daily or weekly basis. If you spent just 10 minutes going over each of, let’s say, 5 lessons a day, at the end of the week you’ll have a whole load of fantastic notes to revise from. Revisit these notes on a regular basis, and by the time it comes to your exams, you won’t even feel like you’re revising at all – it’ll be a habit that you don’t spend a single moment stressing over.

Create headspace

We’ve talked a lot in past issues about the benefits of mindfulness meditation. When it comes to exam stress, meditation offers a double-dose of benefits! Not only does it help to combat stress, but it actually helps your brain to process and retain information. If you build meditation into your routine, and focus your practice around breathing exercises in the run-up to exams, you’ll also be able to calm your nerves when you step into the exam hall. If you’re someone who experiences a racing heart, sweaty palms and a blank mind as soon as you open that exam paper, then mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises could really benefit you, allowing you to ground yourself and clear your mind enough to achieve your very best.

Accept it, but try to re-evaluate it

Have you ever heard motivational speakers talking about the stress and anxiety they experience just before they go on stage? They refer to ‘adrenaline rushes’ and getting ‘pumped up,’ ready to face their audience. They don’t talk about this stress as something that could make them fail; they talk about stress as something that is absolutely necessary in ensuring a great performance. The stress response does serve a purpose, and if we can take control of it so that it doesn’t overwhelm us, we can really use it as a source of energy and motivation. Tune in to your own stress response: When do you feel it? How does your body respond to it? How long does it take to subside? How can you ease it? If you get to know this, you can anticipate it and channel that adrenaline rush – whether it’s into a burst of exercise, or a boost of brainpower.

Learn to ask for help

When you’re anticipating a stressful exam season coming up, it’s important to build your support network ahead of time. Just as you plan out a revision timetable and gather all your notes, you need to make sure you put people and strategies in place, ready to be there when you need them. This might be developing the habit of 10 minutes of meditation each day, way ahead of your exams. It might be scheduling time for a coffee with friends once the hurdle of your first exam is out of the way. Or it might be asking a close friend or relative to be on standby to get you away from your books if you feel snowed under and have to shout for help. You don’t get extra marks for struggling through on your own, so learn to lean on the people around you.

Celebrate your successes

There are bound to be times when you come out of an exam hall thinking you have completely missed the mark. Or you have that dreaded post-exam conversation with your classmates, where you realise that you answered a particular question in a completely different way from your peers (my advice would be to avoid these conversations, but it’s often just too tempting to get swept along with them!). This happens to us all. First of all, congratulate yourself that you got through it. Another test of resilience ticked off! Secondly, trust yourself that you worked to the absolute best of your ability and you have done yourself proud – this really is a big deal! There will always be things you would go back and change if you could, but reflect on the questions you felt confident about answering, and just look at how well your revision timetable is serving you! Give yourself a congratulatory break, and when your mind is clear, get back to your revision.

So, give some of these tips a go and let us know how you get on. From myself and the whole TYV team, Good Luck!

Written By: Hannah Young, MSc, MBPsS, Language Editor, TYV