Exam periods can be a stressful time for students and their families. A certain amount of stress can work as motivation to study and focus on exam preparation, however large amounts of stress can be detrimental and lead to anxiety symptoms and avoidance behaviours. It can be difficult to know how to manage this balance.
Signs that stress has become unhelpful can include:
Exam stress can occur because of fear of failure, feeling unprepared, or perceived pressure and expectations.
The good news is that you can do a number of things to reduce this stress.
1. Plan and organise your study schedule in advance.
As soon as you know when your exams are put together a schedule:
2. Take regular breaks and engage in activities that help you relax.
Build breaks into your schedule. Studying is tiring and it is important to give your brain opportunities to rest and recharge. Chose activities that you know give you energy, relax you or refresh you and schedule these into your study schedule. These activities could be medication, yoga, walking, playing games, reading, dancing … choose what works for you. If you find it hard to come back to study after a break, set a timer to go off at the end of your break or tell someone when your break should be over so that they can help remind you to return to studying.
3. Understand what environment you study best in and limit distractions.
Ensure you have a space to study that is free from distractions. This might mean putting your phone on silent, face down and out of reach, or giving your phone to someone else during your study sessions. You might find that you study best at your desk by yourself with the door shut, or at the dining table around other people (or on a video call with a friend who is also studying), or in the school library with a group of friends. You might study best with headphones on or in complete silence. Ensure that your study space is clear and without distractions. If you do find yourself getting distracted, keep a notebook next to you to jot down distracting thoughts, and then deal with them in your break.
4. Make sure you eat and sleep well.
It can be tempting to try to study every minute of the day, but it is important for your brain to get enough sleep and food. Ensure you factor sleep and three meals a day into your study schedule.
5. Talk to your family and friends about how they can best support you.
Do you need your parents to help you keep you accountable? Perhaps checking in with them at the end of the day to see what you achieved. Or does having your parents ask about your study make you more anxious? Would you like your parents to help you develop a study schedule? Would it help to have a friend on a video call while you do homework at home, while they also do homework? Or would you just end up chatting?
6. Get creative with how you study.
Try using study aids such as flashcards, mind maps, or practice tests to help you prepare.
7. Don't compare your progress with others.
We are all different and this includes study methods and capacity. What works for your friend may not work for you. Try not to think of yourself as in competition with your classmates, rather focus on doing the best you can.
8. Use relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
If you do notice your stress increasing, try closing your eyes and taking some slow deep breaths into your tummy. On each out breath, see if you can lengthen the breath and release any tension you notice. Our breath regulates our body’s stress response and slowing our breath can effectively bring our stress levels down.
9. Reward yourself.
You’ve worked hard! After you have completed an exam or achieved an academic goal, reward yourself with something that makes you feel good.