My top tips for
Coping with Exam Stress
In 2017, I made the decision to go back to University to study a master’s in Clinical Psychology. Whilst I have really enjoyed the course and I’ve enjoyed studying again, I’ll admit I have struggled during exam season. As someone who is now working full-time alongside revising, I’ve really had to practice what I preach over the last few weeks in terms of managing stress. So here’s some of my top tips for keeping stress under control during exams…
- Space your revision out. Ok, this one might be a bit late this year, but try not to leave it until last minute to start revising. Generally speaking, if you deal with high levels of stress or anxiety, leaving the revision until the last minute is probably going to add to your stress levels. Start early and make a revision plan to give yourself plenty of time
- Take breaks. This is so important, if you’re tired your brain won’t be able to take the information in anyway. There’s a lot of research that discusses our brain’s limited attention capacity, so often the best way to revise is in short bursts interspersed with short breaks. Believe me, I know it’s difficult to take breaks, I always sit there feeling I should be working, but even short 5-10 minute breaks work wonders
- Exercise. We always talk about the physical and psychological benefits of exercise, but think about it… It’s gloriously sunny outside (isn’t it always during the exam period?!) and you’ve been shut up in the stuffy library all day. One of the best things you can do in that situation is take a short walk outside – give your brain the chance to process, give your lungs some fresh air and get those stiff joints moving again. Your mind and body will thank you! Related to this point, generally try and look after your physical health: make sure you’re eating well, avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol, and keep up with basic hygiene – I’ve been known to go a whole week without washing my hair during exam season because “I’m too busy revising”!
- Treat yourself. Hard work drains your battery, and at some point, you need to top-up that battery. Think of yourself a little bit like a phone – the more work you do, the faster the battery drains. Rewarding yourself with your favourite TV show or a nice piece of cake (or the whole cake if you’re me!) will top the battery up a bit more. Rewards also act as positive reinforcement – did you just nail a past paper? Rewarding yourself afterwards will reinforce that behaviour in the brain, so you’re more likely to get those questions right again!
- On exam day. Make sure you eat, meditate, relax, do whatever you need to do before the exam. Think about your personality: does last-minute cramming outside the exam room help or hinder you? Not many people can cram stuff in right before the exam without getting stressed or panicky (although I envy those who can). My motto? If I don’t know it by then, I never will! Do what you can to keep yourself calm – panicking isn’t going to help your mind work at its full potential. Practise some belly breathing and relaxation before and during the exam.
- After the exam. Even if you have another exam only a week later, try and take a day (or at least a few hours) off the revision to give your mind a bit of a rest. And I make the point about rewards again – definitely treat yourself after your exam, even if it didn’t go the way you were hoping. Then, when you are ready to start revising for the next exam, if the first exam didn’t go well try to put that out of your mind and focus on the one ahead: perhaps some Mindfulness can help you with that
So there you have it: my top tips for managing stress during exams season. Now, time for me to stop procrastinating and get on with my own revision – good luck everyone!!
By Bethan Jones
Well-being Course Practitioner