When exam time rolls around, managing stress is key. A little bit of stress can be a good thing, helping you focus and get things done. But if your stress is overwhelming, it can paralyze you and make it impossible to function.
Your individual threshold for stress is unique to you. Certain things that trigger your stress may not bother your friends at all, and certain things that don’t phase you may seriously bother your friends. That’s OK. What’s important is knowing your threshold and triggers.
You are not alone. Your classmates are going through exams right alongside you. This is a stressful period with a definitive end date. You can do it!
Get Good Sleep
Lack of good sleep can significantly impact your stress levels. It can be tempting to pull all-nighters during exam times, but getting sleep is more important. The quality of an essay pounded out the night before it is due is not going to be as good as one done over time. The same goes for cramming all night before exams. When it comes to building a solid foundation and working memory of material, slow and steady wins the race.
Showing up to exams exhausted is a surefire way to increase your stress during the exam, which will lower your performance.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time daily. Wind down before sleep especially if you are studying on a computer. Most people need 6-8 hours of sleep per night.
It is so easy to procrastinate and let time fly by scrolling social media or watching videos. You need to set yourself up for studying success. Make an exam calendar so you can plan ahead. Block out time each day for studying. Creating a schedule of exams and studying will help you feel more in control!
If you find it difficult to focus for long chunks of time, try the Pomodoro Technique. With Pomodoro, you set a timer and study for short, focused bursts and take regular breaks.
You should also have a dedicated space for studying that is NOT your bed. Studying in bed is a surefire way to end up dozing over boring flashcards or your laptop. Keep your study space clean and organized so that you can focus. Put your phone away so you’re not tempted to distract yourself and procrastinate. With the Pomodoro Technique, you get little rewards of break time after your burst of focused studying.
Scarfing a candy bar and an energy drink can be tempting to help you power through a lengthy study session, but in the long run that will hurt you. Your brief sugar or caffeine high will be followed by a crash.
Try to avoid processed foods or fast foods. Eat whole foods like fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and (if you are not vegetarian or vegan) lean proteins and cheese.
Get yourself a good water bottle and keep it filled. Staying hydrated can prevent lethargy and keep your brain functioning at peak performance.
When you are stressed out over exams, taking a break for exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But getting exercise is important and will support your retention of information and give you more energy.
In fact, you could combine studying with exercise by reviewing flashcards or reading a book while on an elliptical or Peloton. You could also help a friend destress by inviting them on a walk.
While we are not plants and photosynthetic, our bodies thrive on sunlight. Don’t spend all your time on the computer, remember to get outside every day.
Do not be afraid to ask for help in managing stress. If you are not feeling prepared, find a study group or create one. Ask upperclassmen if they have copies of old exams so you can use them to take practice tests. Go to your professors’ office hours to ask questions.
You should also let your friends and family know when it’s time for exams so they can be supportive and respectful of your time.
- Jam out to your favorite song
- Read an excerpt from your favorite book
- Stretch for five minutes
- Write in a gratitude journal
- Plan a fun night out with friends to celebrate the end of exams
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