Every student who aims to become a high-achiever will experience exam stress. It’s an unavoidable part of student life that can be a tough nut to crack. Remember, stress exists for a reason and you can choose to let it be your downfall, or use it to drive you to improve your work.
To combat exam stress, first you need to understand the reasons behind this heightened anxiety. Then you can establish methods to reduce the pressures you feel.
1. Eat a proper exam day breakfast
Without a proper breakfast your energy levels will quickly crash and may lead to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Be sure to have a healthy, energy packed breakfast on exam day. Try eating foods that provide long lasting energy, such as eggs or oats. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, which will give temporary energy but may cause you to crash mid-exam.
2. Hydrate Yourself
If you're allowed to, bring a water bottle with you to your exam. Thinking is thirsty work! Being dehydrated negatively affects how efficiently the brain works. Be sure to stay hydrated before your exam.
3. Watch your caffeine intake
As tempting as it may be, don't have too much coffee/caffeine before your exam. Caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. If you are going to be stressed during your exam, caffeine will only exacerbate these feelings and make them more difficult to keep in check.
However, Caffeine in limited quantities may have a positive effect on your memory, so if you usually have a cup of coffee with breakfast, go ahead.
4. Arrive early
You may be nervous about the test itself so there is no need for extra stress from fear of being late.
5. Read instructions carefully
Before answering any exam questions, figure out exactly what is expected of you. Skim the test to see its content and give yourself a rough idea of how long each question will take to complete.
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6. Avoid rushing
Take your time going through the exam. If you get stuck on a question for a long time, instead of getting stressed about it, keep in mind that it is just one question on the exam. If possible (if the way the test is structured allows it), skip that question and return to it at the end if you have time.
Keep an eye on the clock and give yourself 5 to 10 minutes to go over your answers to check for any mistakes or to guess on any questions that you initially skipped.
7. Ask your instructor if you're stuck
It doesn’t hurt to ask for clarification on something. She may or may not answer your question as it may give you an unfair advantage over other students, but you lose only a few seconds by raising your hand and asking.
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8. Remember to breathe
With your eyes closed, take three large breaths, then pause, exhale, and repeat the process. Large, deliberate breaths not only help relax the body, but also increase the flow of oxygen to the brain. Use this technique both before the test and during difficult areas of the exam.
Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Try to hold your breath for a count of 2, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
9. Take a break if you need to
If allowed, get up and get a drink of water, use the bathroom, or simply stretch your legs if it will help you regain focus and decrease anxiety.
For example, tighten your shoulders and slowly relax them, repeating the process in other tense areas of your body. Tightening muscles before relaxing them enhances the body's relaxation awareness, which relaxes the body even more.
10. Put the exam in perspective
Keep in mind that, in the grand scheme of your future, doing poorly on one exam will likely not be that impactful. We often overestimate how bad things will be and how poorly they will make us feel. Keep that in mind if you find yourself getting stressed out in the middle of your exam. It is probably not the end of the world if you do poorly. Life will go on and you can study harder for the next one!
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