Students Surviving Exam Stress!

Diane Duguid

Revision and study tips for stressed-out students about to take on exam season to set yourself up for the best chance of success in your exams.

If you're currently facing exam season, you'll have heard of all the usual tips. Eat a balanced diet, get lots of sleep, self-care, relaxation, exercise and a healthy helping of regular revision. The thing they're missing though is why, how and what to do if it just isn't clicking.

The Secret to Studying

There is no catch-all for studying, the big secret is to study and revise in a way that works best for you, your body and your brain. There's nothing for it, only you can hold the right kind of info in your brain. And the key is to remember that it won't last forever, it's just a few tiny weeks our of your entire life!

Firstly, you've got to believe it - you do know this stuff, it's there in the back of your brain, ready and waiting for the big day. All you've got to do is make your own clear brain pathways so you can bring it to the surface whenever you need it.

Build Up Your Brain Muscles

Grow-your-own! In the same way a weightlifter cannot grow muscles from one long session at the gym, you need to build those memory pathways bit by bit. It's why the advice our there about studying in little pockets of info and taking frequent breaks really is true.

Take it slow, focus on one topic (or even one section) at a time to help make revision a less tedious task.

Become a Note-Taking Maestro

Underline / highlight key words, make lists, charts, mind-maps, use colours to categorise things, draw pictures or diagrams, the choice is entirely yours. It doesn't matter what you do, the key is the act of writing it down your way. And bonus, with every note you take, you're building that key muscle memory ready for writing the answer.

Be Kind to Your Mind Through Muscle Recovery

Or sleep, as it's often called! Sleep is not just the healthy thing to do, it's a really powerful memory-enhancer. About 15 mins before you go to sleep, read through your notes (on paper - no blue light!), a half-page summary that you have written, of today's revision notes. And that's it! By morning all those lovely, thoughtful neurohormones will have done their magic for you!

Over-Studying is Real

Music to your ears I bet, but it is true, you can over-study and it can work against you when it comes to your exams.

Your peak focus fluctuates throughout the day, so if possible, organise your day around that. A low-focus time? Take the dog for a walk, grab a snack or chill out and enjoy some downtime and self-care.

We all know short blocks of study are ideal - remember lessons not hearing every word from the teacher, frequently looking out of the window etc? It's the same when you're revising on your own. Now's a good time to sneak in a couple of stretches and breathing exercises.

Breathe Through the Stressful Moments

When you're stressed you unconsciously start to take shallow breaths. Your brain then doesn't get enough oxygen, so you can't concentrate. You feel like you can't learn, so you stress more, and the spiral continues downwards.

Feel like this? Stop. Put your pens down and pop studying on hold for a moment. Breathe in through your nose for 5 secs. Hold for 5 secs. Breathe out through your mouth for 5 secs. Repeat 3 more times.

A minute and you've broken the cycle, got some oxygen to your brain and you're ready to study again. Maybe add a super-stretch up to the ceiling a couple of times to release some of that tension.

Get Started Now

We've all made the mistake of starting too late and feeling stressed right up to the last minute (and I'm including last minute exam revision here). The stress holds you back mentally, and despite litres of energy drinks, you really do risk crashing in the middle of the exam.

Start revising as early as you can to set yourself up for the best chance of success.

Left It a Little Late?

Recognise this and understand there is no way to cover everything now, but you can get through. Leave the stuff that's always felt totally beyond you. Focus on preparing up to 75% of the work to your very best depth - this is the level the exam is testing to, so your final mark will be better than trying a surface touch of everything. And get some sleep.

Super Stressed?

Ask for help, talk to others. Saying it out loud can sometimes make the weight of it all seem smaller. Your school can help. Have a look at some of the online resources like:

And Finally

Walking into an exam feeling nervous is perfectly normal. Remind yourself you are not stressed, because you know enough. A few deep breaths, oxygenate your brain and let your knowledge flow out via those memory paths you created.

You've got this!

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