The In’s and Out’s of How to Deal with Exam Stress

December 9, 2012

It’s that magical time again, the dust is shaken off notebooks and highlighters are drawn as students across the world prepare for the nightmare that drives many towards the question of “why didn’t I do more this semester?”.  Here we go again because it’s…dun dun dunn, exam time!  This magical point of the year is when stress is at its maximum peak and for many, tensions run dangerously close to their breaking point.  Some students are able to handle these exams as the literal embodiment of confidence and preparation, which comes from a semester of hard work and studying; others, not so much.  For the latter category, here are a few tips on how to save the last few hairs on your head from being ripped out and deal with that mountain of exam stress that looms over many of us.

First and foremost, don’t become a machine. Many students seem to believe that by focusing every ounce of energy on cramming, they will perform better because they put so much time into it.  This is a myth; regular sleeping hours, eating habits and quick breaks in between chapters are more helpful than 24 hours of day of studying with a sleep addled, food deprived brain.  Chances are, if you invest all your effort into constant reading, your eyes will glaze over, your brain will get bored and you will most likely read the same sentence read the same sentence read the same sentence over and over like that for an hour, not productive.  If your mind is not soaking up information, feel free to stare at your wall for an hour; both will have the same effect.

An important key to successful studying during exams is organization.  Believe it or not, spending your entire morning searching for those exam notes does not actually count as studying. Time is like money; waste both and they are gone. With exams coming close, every dollar counts.  Create a system, day-planner, timetable, a machine that pokes you in the eye when you fall asleep while reading- literally anything that works for you to study better.  Remember that everyone is different; do not limit yourself to study methods that have helped your friends, find your own Zen.  If you don’t study well in a group, don’t be in one; this also goes for being alone.

Something else to remember is to sort out your priorities, there’s no sense in reviewing chapter one if you’ve memorized it already and have no idea of what the title of chapter four is.  Instead of playing to your strengths, play to your weaknesses and go over the stuff that makes you feel like you should be wearing a pointed cap and sitting in a corner.  If you don’t feel comfortable going over it, this is good. That means that is what you need to work on the most.

Another tip is to remember how to say no occasionally, both to friends and yourself.  Maybe that kegger down the street does sound like a load of fun, but with exams impending ever closer, is that really where you think you should be, hanging upside down gulping down beer with a textbook in your hand? I think not.  Listen to that cute little cartoon angel on your shoulder every once in a while and understand your own limitations.

Finally, and most importantly of all, is to visualize your own success.  A moderately intelligent person once told me that their motto is to ‘fake it till they make it’, or to act confident until they were.  The human body is more receptive to trickery than you would ever believe.  If you fake a smile, your body releases the same endorphins it would for when you’re actually smiling.  Be an actor or actress this month and play the part of the genius that knows everything, or something similar to that.  Also, remember, if you’ve done everything you can, why stress?  If you have not, why waste time stressing?  Either way, there’s no need for anxiety, it’s not worth the effort.  With that, the best of luck in finals and I’ll see you at the after party!