Exam Stress. How To Deal With It

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Exam stress can be too much for some students to take.  They get flustered, waste time doing the wrong things and aren't able to achieve the goals that they set out to achieve.  You don't have to let exam stress get on top of you though.  There are ways of not only dealing with exam stress but also being able to manage the amount of stress that you experience to make you more effective at studying.

Exam stress within itself isn't a bad thing.  You need stress to push you forwards and help motivate you from being in a stuck state to a productive state,  The key is being able to utilise the positive benefits of stress and prevent yourself from dropping into a low point where you become overwhelmed and over-stimulated.

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It is when exams stress gets too much that your revision becomes hampered and you start to say things to yourself such as:

  • "I can't do this"
  • "I'm not good enough"
  • "I'm not intelligent enough to learn this"
  • "I'm just stupid"

Now these things aren't true.  They are just words from your wounded little ego that is trying to get you to give up.  Why does it want you to give up?

Because it always feels safer when you stick with what you've always done and you don't move forward in your life.  This is because the messages are coming from your amygdala which is the reptilian part of your brain.  What do lizards want to do the most?  They want to safely find shelter, food and water.  Anything else can put them in danger.  Lizards don't need stress in their life but humans do.  Stress is an important factor in our physical and mental growth and will help you to beat exam stress.

Exam Stress Tips

So here are my top tips for you to beat your exam stress.  These tips will help you to beat exam stress and also become a better learner for the rest of your life.  They will help you to learn anything that you want to learn now or in the future.  Yes there are more ways that you can learn, but if your are currently struggling then these will take you further than most people will know how to do.

Start Your Revision Early

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You need to start your revision several months before your exams start.  Ideally you need to be reviewing your material the same day that you learn it, then a week after and then 2 weeks after that and a month after that.

With it currently being March as I write this and exams being in May you've already gone beyond that point and it's time to get started.  Most students get overwhelmed with exam stress because they leave it to the last minute and then try to cram too much in at the last minute.  Overloading your brain with information like that isn't good for learning.  You might feel like you are being more effective because you are doing a lot of things but that isn't true.  There is a big difference between being busy and being effective.  Your goal is to beat exam stress by being effective.

To be effective you need to organise your study schedule according to when your exams are.  You will also need to vary the subjects that you are taking in so that you don't become bored or create monotony around your studying.  Learning is so much more effective when it is fun and engaging.  You need to get your exam dates down into a list in date order showing which subjects are on which days.  Then number the subjects from subject 1 moving on until you get to the last exam subject.  This will be the backbone that you work from.

Your initial focus needs to be 50% on subject 1 and 2 with around 25% on subject 3 and 4, 13% on subject 5 and 6, 7% on subject 7 and 8 then 5% on subject 9 and 10.  The way that this works is that you are making the first exams your priority and then also making sure that you are covering the other subjects that will appear later and you aren't leaving them until the last minute to study.  This is a big cause of exam stress.

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When you have completed the exams for subjects 1 and 2 you then make 3 and 4 take priority taking up 50% of your time and sharing out the rest of the time appropriately.  You continue this until you have completed all of your exams.  This way you are taking in the information that you need over a longer period of time and committing your study material to your medium and longer term memory.

Plan this out by creating your very own study planner.  Look at how many hours you have available each week and spread your subjects out across the time that you have.  Vary the subjects so that you are not just working on one thing for several hours in a row.  Study planners really help you to manage exam stress far more effectively than not having one at all.

Create Your Own Study Material

Having a revision book as well as the workbooks that you have used throughout your school year are great tools.  It doesn't have to end there though.  You can get on top of your exam stress by making your own study material from these great sources.

Now when I say create your own study material, I'm not saying write your own book.  I'm saying make things like web charts, mind maps, voice recordings of you talking about important points to know about each subject and preparing material to help teach someone else how to understand the subject.

Here is a great book to help you to learn mind maps for your exams.  Click the image to see the book.

exam stress leeds hypnotherapist tony buzan mind maps kids

I have found that when I use these methods that not only has my understanding of the subject increased but my ability to recall the information when needed has also increased.  Revision is so much more than just reading what you need to learn.  By interacting with the information you will find it much easier to beat the exam stress that you might find from having to recall the information.  There is no point in studying in such a way that it leaves you unable to easily recall what you have studied.

Chunk Your Study Time

Another of the big exam stress causers during revision is trying to study for too long.  All this does is overwhelm your mind, you find it harder to take more information in and then the amount of exam stress that you experience increases until you can't take anything else in.  When you sit back and think about it, it's crazy to do that to yourself right?  I bet you've still been doing it though.  It's time for a modern and effective approach to cutting exam stress by chunking your learning time into bite-size pieces.

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Modern research shows that you learn far more by taking in information in 20 minute chunks.  The way that I have been shown and really works is that you study for 20 minutes, then have around 2 minutes where you sit with your eyes closed and quieten your mind.  When I do this it feels as if the information is absorbing in my body and mind.  Then have 3 minutes maximum to recall the information you have learned and either write it or make a mind map etc as shown above.  Then take a 10 minute break to grab a glass of water or go to the toilet and then go back to the next thing you need to study.

While it may seem like you are doing less, you will actually achieve more and be more effective at learning and recalling.  This is important if you really want to beat exam stress.

Get Plenty of Rest

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Resting is just as important as working when it comes to learning and beating exam stress.  If you aren't getting plenty of sleep each day then all you are doing is tiring out your body and mind.  It isn't good for you and you need to factor in sleeping to your schedule.  I would also highly recommend that you meditate 3 times a day for 15 minutes each time when you are studying.  In fact I would recommend you do that period!

Meditation helps you to quieten your mind which can get busy during your revision period.  A busy mind doesn't have the space to take in more information which increases exam stress.  That's the opposite of what you are aiming for here.

If you are struggling to clear your mind then download the free audio below.

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Hydrate and Eat Well

Hydration and eating well are very important to lowering exam stress.  When I say hydration I'm not talking about cans of coke, coffee, tea or sugary fruit drinks.  I'm talking about water.  Your brain needs to have plenty of water to help it function at it's best.  When you deny your brain of essential water you are damaging your study efforts and increasing exam stress.

You also need to look at the food that you are putting into your body.  Your body at it's optimum is a highly tuned race car.  If you fuel it with junk then how do you think that race car is going to run?

Terribly!

You'll have less energy, less clarity and less focus.  Studying will be harder for you as your body is fighting through all of the junk to try and find the fuel that it needs.  Put down the crisps and biscuits and start eating more vegetables and fruit.  Your body and mind will feel much better for it.  A healthy body lowers exam stress.

Form A Study Group

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Try to form a study group for each subject that you have exams for.  The people that you want to be in that group are the people that are better than you in that subject.  There is a saying that applies to all areas of your life and is one you should always remember.

"If you find that you are the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room"

If you are the best in your year (or one of the best) in a subject then this is the only time that you can't find that correct room for you.  In this case you should work on learning something within the subject that the group is studying and be the one that teaches the study group about it.  This goes back to a point I made in the second study tip about how to revise.  By being able to teach something to someone else you are able to master it and recall it easier.

Mastery of a subject lowers the amount of exam stress you will feel about it.

Become Accountable

Being accountable to someone else for following through with what you say you are going to do is a massive motivator.  Not only do you have to get it done but if you don't then you also have someone to answer to if you don't.  You can make a pact with another student, a parent or someone else that will make you keep your end of the bargain.  Never, ever pick someone who will go easy on you if you don't get everything done that you promised to.  That's not how winning is done!  Having a competition with a friend to always stay on track is a great way to lower your exam stress and get more done.  Just remember to use the principles I've mentioned and not go over the top.

Organise Your Study Area

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A cluttered working area leads to a cluttered mind.  A cluttered mind causes revision issues which then leads to exam stress.  If your papers are all over the place and unorganised, what do you think your inner mind looks like?  How much more difficult do you think that it is for your mind to be able to recall information?  

  • ​​​​If you have a coffee stain on your desk - clean it!  
  • If you have an overflowing bin - empty it!  
  • If you have food wrappers on the floor - throw them away! 
  • If your bed is a mess - make it!

"Tidy your damn room" - Jordan Peterson in ​12 Rules for Life

It is up to you to get your room sorted and made into a great place to study.  This might not be what you want to hear but this is going to help you massively.  Clear your room and clear your mind.

During Your Exam

Take a couple of minutes at the start of your exam to quieten your mind if you are feeling exam stress.  This will help you to perform much better overall.  When your mind is calm it functions much better and recalling answers becomes easier.  If you are stuck on a question, have a couple of minuted to quieten your mind and then see if the answer pops up.  If it doesn't then you move on to the next one and come back to that one at the end.  

I know how important exams are but it isn't the end of the world.  Just remember to go easy on yourself and talk to yourself in an encouraging way.  Before your exams and during your study time, take time out to laugh.  Your mind becomes more open to new information when you are having fun.  You can be too serious and learn less.

If you have any more tips please do comment below.  Most of all I wish you the very best of luck in your exams and I hope that you get the results that you are hoping for.

Paul.

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