Friday 26 October 2012

Exam time is the worst time for students: what can you do to eliminate stress?

“I’ll fail no matter what I do.”
“If I don’t pass there’s point in carrying on.”
“If I don’t get top marks, my family will lose all respect for me.”

These are just some of the thoughts that go through the minds of the students who are writing exams. The correct term for this is exam stress, suffered by many students who are unsure about their future. Exam stress can end up debilitating students, leaving them unable to put across what they have learned to paper during an exam. The good news is that there are techniques you can use to reduce exam stress and get on with passing your exams.

Exam stress-busting tips:

Believe in yourself. If you prepare for the exams properly you should do fine, meaning that there is no need to worry excessively.

Don't try to be perfect. It's great to succeed and reach for the stars, but keep things in balance. If you think that "anything less than a distinction means I've failed" then you are creating mountains of unnecessary stress for yourself. Aim to do your best but recognise that none of us can be perfect all of the time.

Take steps to overcome problems. If you find you don't understand some of your course material, getting stressed out won't help. Instead, take action to address the problem directly by seeing or talking to your course tutor or getting help from your classmates.

Don't keep things bottled up. Confiding in someone you trust and who will be supportive is a great way to alleviate stress and worry.

Keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now, but in the grander scheme of your whole life they are only a small part. Interrupt negative thoughts with positive ones. Examples:  “I can do this”, “I will do my best”, “I can pass this test”, “I will focus only on the question in front of me.”  "I have done it before, so I can do it again."

Plan your study time. Too much material + Too little time = Anxiety.  Plan your studying with regularly scheduled study sessions about 50 minutes long separated by 5 – 10 minute breaks.

Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Anxiety increases when one feels tired, run down and overwhelmed. Overall resilience depends on one's physical and mental health.

Get accurate information.  Check your course syllabus and get an understanding of the grading procedure. If you don’t understand, ASK. Well before the exam; make sure you know where it will be held, the start time, how long it will last, whether extra time will be allowed. Ask your lecturer whether it is an open-book exam or not, when the marks will be available, what materials can or should be brought into the exam room.

Plan. Rest well the night before the exam. Plan to arrive at the test location early. If you can pick your seat, choose one away from the doors, windows or other distractions. Plan to monitor the time during the exam so wear a watch or sit where you can see the clock. Plan to wear layers of clothing so you can adjust your need for more warmth or coolness. Check out the examination room ahead of time if you can. 

Avoid bad things. Give coffee and other stimulants a miss the night before the exam or on the day of the exam. Avoid anxious or talkative students. Avoid other people or things that may disturb your self-confidence, focus and level of relaxation. Definitely avoid arriving late.

In the Exam Room:

Avoid panic. It's natural to feel some exam nerves prior to starting the exam, but getting excessively nervous is counterproductive as you will not be able to think as clearly.

The quickest and most effective way to eliminate feelings of stress and panic is to close your eyes and take several long, slow deep breaths. Breathing in this way calms your whole nervous system. Simultaneously you could give yourself some mental pep-talk by mentally repeating "I am calm and relaxed" or "I know I will do fine".

If your mind goes blank, don't panic! It will just make it harder to recall information. Instead, focus on slow, deep breathing for about one minute. If you still can't remember the information then move on to another question and return to this question later.

Survey what’s in front of you by doing the following:
·         Read the instructions carefully
·         Quickly survey every page of the test
·         See what will be expected of you
·         Re-read the instructions a second time
·         Prioritise what needs to be done

When surveying the test, place a mark beside all questions you know you can answer

Divide up your time according to the importance of the questions

Answer the easiest questions first to guarantee marks in the least amount of time

Do not rush through the test

Regularly check time left for the rest of the questions

Give yourself time to proofread what you have written; you should not still be writing at the invigilator’s “5 minutes remaining” announcement.

Remember to breathe deeply and if you feel as though you’re not coping, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, who have specialists in their call centre to help students suffering from anxiety and depression during exams.

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