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  • Manini Sethi

How to Beat Exam Stress

Exams, the most stressful time of the year for most students, are right around the corner. (If you haven't already, you can find your exam schedule here.)

If you took an introduction to psychology course in high school you were probably told that stress isn't always a bad thing and that there's the "good type of stress" called eustress, which is good for us and helps us respond appropriately to situations. The primary example for eustress in many introductory psychology books was that being stressed for an exam helped us get the motivation to study for it. In many situations, this is far from true. Exam stress, in several cases, becomes the "bad type" of stress or distress which actually makes it difficult for many students to study and perform well on the exam.


If you're anything like me and often find your heart racing the night before an important exam or your hands sweating during the exam (to the point where ink would smudge on my test papers), here are some tips to help you cope with your exam stress:

1) Several days before your exam

This one sounds obvious, but studying before your exam will definitely help reduce your stress levels significantly. If you leave exam preparation to the night before, you may find your stress consuming your ability to prepare. Even if the exam isn't too tough, it's always best to prepare in advance. You may also want to consider making notes which you can use for doing a quick revision the night before your exam.

♥ Don't neglect your diet and lifestyle. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Ensure that you are getting enough sleep. You can also consider trying breathing exercises to help you calm your nerves. Apps like Calm can help you practice mindful breathing.

♥ Maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you have difficulty managing your time and find yourself procrastinating, it may be a good idea to make an hourly or daily schedule. Remember to include activities that help distract you from your exam, like catching up with friends or watching a movie.

2) The night before your exam

♥ It's best to not try and learn new things the night before the exam and focus on revising topics that you have already covered.

♥ Eat a healthy meal and sleep on time.

♥ Maintain perspective and try to avoid having unrealistic expectations. There is life after the big test. Life is more than scholastic success. One test will almost never make or break your career. Those who love you would not care about how you perform in one test.

3) During your exam

♥ If you feel jittery during your exam, take a break. Yes, during your exam. You can take a short walk to the washroom, wash your face or hands, and try and distract yourself from your exam. You can do this by thinking about your after exam plans or something you look forward to.

♥ Avoid giving in to your nervousness. If you have a nervous tick like biting your nails or pulling your lip, make a conscious effort to avoid doing it. The first step towards this is to be aware of the habit.

♥ Again, maintain perspective. One exam is not going to define your career or your life. You're so much more than the grades you receive in an exam. Remind yourself of the things you are good at.

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