Exams are a crucial and inevitable component of a student’s life throughout their academic career and the cause of stress for many students. Exam season is rarely an easy time for students, so it is important that they remain calm and composed throughout this trying time. While some claim that a certain amount of worry and stress is necessary to maintain the pressure to study well for tests or exams, persistent anxiety and stress might result in undesirable scenarios.
There is a term known as cortisol level which functions with certain parts of our brain, that many of you might not be familiar with, and is considered to be correlated with stress. The cortisol level is also known as the stress hormone. In fact, a group of researchers posted their findings about the topic “a study of increasing cortisol level in young individuals due to stress” on the National Library of Medicine. The study showed that the cortisol level among individuals increased during stressful periods and witnessed an obvious decrease during relaxed periods. In this study, the term “stressful period” refers to the time of exams, whereas the term “relaxed period” denotes a time when there is no stress or concern about exams.
In simple terms, our brains produce large amounts of cortisol when we are under stress, which can impair our judgment and prevent us from thinking logically. Hence, it is critical to maintain composure in order to achieve goals in a highly competitive setting. However, this is easier said than done.
Signs of Exam Stress
a) Mental & behavioural signs
- Having trouble sleeping
- Mood swings
- Uninspired to do anything
- Excessive eating
- Lack of concentration
- Going blank during study-time
b) Physical signs
- Fidgeting or nail biting
- Experiencing frequent headaches
- Sweaty palms
- Increasing heartbeat
- Upset stomach
- Feeling nauseated
Factors that Contribute to Exam Stress
Common reasons for students experiencing stress during exams –
- Difficulty understanding the topics or subjects they are studying
- Worried that they might fail the test/exam
- Feeling unprepared
- Not having enough time to study well
- Uncertainty about the questions asked in the exam
- Family pressure to do exceptionally well or secure high marks
- Worried about other things happening in their life
How to Deal with Exam Stress?
We have provided 10 tips for students to help them study more effectively and less anxiously throughout exams –
1) Set realistic goals
The first thing you need to do is to set goals that are both attainable and reasonable. Whether you have a couple of days, or even hours before your exam, having realistic goals will help you see things in proper context. It is vital that you accept the reality of your situation and work within the remaining time frame as that will maximise your productivity, reduce anxiety and increase your concentration.
2) Prepare a revision timetable
Create a revision timetable for each subject based on the date of the exam and the topics you need to cover. Setting your priorities straight for your time and effort for every subject can have a significant positive impact and will lower your level of anxiety. You will have a clear notion of how much time you require to spend on each exam topic and when to start revising thanks to this.
You will be able to cover all the important topics for each subject’s exam with the aid of this timetable. Make a simple checklist of all the topics and tick off the topics you have finished as you work your way through the revision. With every tick you make on the checklist, you will feel a little sense of accomplishment indicating that you are moving forward.
3) Conduct mock tests
The most common reasons for experiencing stress and anxiety ahead of exams are first, not having enough time for practicing the topics and second, the uncertainty of what to expect on the day of the exam, for instance, which questions are more likely to be asked from a particular chapter or what is the quick and correct way to solve an equation, etc.
One of the best ways to cope with exam stress is to practice as much as you can. To get an idea of questions or topics that have previously come up most often, you must compile exam papers from the last 4-5 years. If you are unable to find them, there are several books and websites available where you can find mock papers in a similar format as your exams.
When it comes to certain topics of any particular subject, many students lack the confidence to prepare for them and struggle to find the correct answer during the exam. Mock tests assist in facing those topics head-on since, in the event that they do come on the final exam, you will be able to respond to them correctly because you have had sufficient preparation.
4) Time management
Another thing that can cause stress is running out of time or being unable to finish the paper within the stipulated hours. To avoid this from happening, practice is the key.
When solving previous year’s exam papers or mock tests to assess your knowledge about the subject, remember to set a timer and try answering all the questions before the timer goes off. Attempting to finish the mock test on time will help you get more organised and efficient in answering the questions correctly. It will help you determine how much time to devote to each question in order to complete the exam on time.
5) Avoid comparing yourself to others
It can be quite stressful, if you feel that everyone is performing better than you, devoting more time to studies than you, or simply not worrying as much as you do. Keep in mind that your friends’ outcomes aren’t guaranteed and they might be experiencing the same level of stress or anxiety as you.
6) Practise healthy eating and sleeping habits
In order to take care of and preserve your mental well-being during stressful times, it is imperative that you eat the right meals. Your eating habits affect your emotional and physical well-being as well. For example, consuming food items having a lot of fats or high amount of sugar can make you feel lethargic. For your body to function properly, you need to eat nutritious food.
To reduce stress during exams, you need to eat healthy food which is rich in fibre and other nutrients, consume fewer caffeine drinks, reduce your intake of carbs and drink more water. A poor diet may cause more tension and stomach problems, which results in a lack of concentration.
Pulling all-nighters almost every night during exam time is one way to increase anxiety. Make sure you get 8-9 hours of sleep each night for your body and brain to function at their best. Getting enough sleep is thought to improve your ability to remember what you have learned.
You can relax your mind before studying by doing some form of meditation for 10-15 minutes. For instance, breathing exercises can help reduce stress or anxiety while studying or taking exams. All you need to do is sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes then breathe in for three counts and exhale for five counts and repeat.
Many students are turning to the age-old practice of meditation in an effort to perform better on tests. Meditation helps to relax both mind and body which enables the student to attain a high level of concentration.
Self-care comprises the little things we undertake to take care of our own mental, physical, and emotional well-being. When students are worried about their exams, they feel compelled to focus only on their studies and believe that they do not have any time to spare to indulge themselves in self-care.
Despite the fact that revision is necessary, students need to take time to take care of themselves by getting enough rest/sleep, eating healthy food, and if they don’t allow themselves spare time to relax by engaging in activities they enjoy, like gaming or meeting friends, then they will find it more difficult to focus on their study. Everyone needs a break occasionally since we are not robots.
9) Treat yourself with kindness
No matter how realistic or attainable goals you set, there is always a possibility of falling short in the process of accomplishing them. And that’s OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a few goals or if it took you more time to complete a specific goal than you expected. Even if it’s a short list, we recommend that you make a list of your achievements at the end of each day because that will aid in elevating your motivation.
10) Listening to music
It is widely believed that listening to music has significant therapeutic benefits. During study breaks or at night before sleeping, students can listen to soothing and calming tunes to refresh their minds. Oftentimes, soothing music aids in both brain relaxation and memory improvement.
In conclusion, remember nothing lasts forever. Even if things may feel extreme right now, they won’t continue to be that way in the long run. You can feel more in control by developing healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to deal with exam stress and anxiety.