Perspective: 10 tips to deal with exam stress
Keep some perspective. In 10 years time will you remember your exam grades?
The orals are over, your final projects have been submitted, and you’re finally in the home stretch with the written papers. Months of toiling away in your study area has come down to this, but what can you do to best use the rest of the time till the end of the exams? Dr Mark Smyth of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) offers a breakdown on how students can best handle this time.
1. Exam time can be an anxious, stressful and potentially overwhelming experience. Remember, test taking anxiety is normal, and because anxiety is an emotion it will pass if you give it time. The more you fight it the longer it will last. As the phrase goes, “if you see a wave coming, grab a surfboard”.
2. Don’t forget to mind yourself, especially:
a) Sleep: you should be aiming for 8-10 hours per night. Try to wind down before going to sleep. You don’t go from fifth gear straight to first gear when driving a car; your mind works similarly and needs time to slow down before sleep.
b) Eat: Make sure to eat regularly. Continuing the car analogy, a car won’t run without petrol. Eat regular meals and eat well: this will help your ability to think, concentrate and last the distance.
c) Exercise: Regular exercise will help to relieve some of the stress build-up and improve your mood. Build it into your plan: walk the dog, go for a swim or cycle or anything that gets you active.
d) Downtime: Make time for some fun, it’s not only allowed, it’s recommended. Schedule things you enjoy doing at weekends or during breaks between exams.
3. Have the practical issues organised in advance, not at the last minute. What’s my timetable for the exam period - have I a printed copy? How am I travelling to the exams? What do I need for each exam? Pens, rulers, calculators, exam number?
4. The run up and the exams themselves can be very tiring, both physically and mentally, and there’s a tendency to increase caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant, and its impact can mimic feelings of anxiety and interfere with our ability to sleep and concentrate. Where you can, minimise your intake of caffeine during exam time.
5. Try to keep some perspective. Ask yourself the question: “in 10 years time are you likely to remember what grades you got in the exams?” . It’s unlikely.
6. Try not to despair. This increases anxiety which can impact on exam performance. It’s more helpful to focus on what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do/didn’t do.
7. Remember, no matter how the exams go you always have options: to repeat, to get experience, to return to school as a mature student, to go to college, and other alternative routes to third level. Exams don’t define you as a person. We’re all more interesting and important than a grade on an exam.
8. Post-mortems - dwelling on what has already happened will only mess with your head. It doesn’t help because you can’t change the past. With social media and instant messaging there’s a temptation to take the post-mortem online, and this is also unlikely to be helpful. Try to leave the last exam behind you and focus on what you can do, which is the next exam.
9. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed make sure to talk to someone: friends, family, a teacher. You’re not going through this experience alone, support is available, including on ReachOut.com.
10. Remember, exams are time limited, there is an end in sight, there’s a long, hopefully busy and enjoyable summer break ahead.
This article was first published in June 2015