It’s easy to get caught up in exam stress, especially if everyone around you is panicking. But stress in general is not a positive thing to be experiencing, so if you can get it under control you will find the coming months much easier.
First things first, what stresses you? This can be people, the number of exams, feeling unprepared, feeling like you don’t have enough time. Make a list and then mark next to each thing what you can influence and what you can’t. The things that you can’t influence it’s important to let go of; can you remove them or avoid them? The things you can influence are the things you need to create a plan around and take control of.
Remember that when you’re stressed it can have a negative effect on other areas of your life. When you’re stressed you’re more likely to make a bad decision or judgement. There are some really easy things you can do to de-stress like exercise; this suppresses stress hormones, and meditation to calm the mind; there are some great free apps available. Below are some tips and advice to really take control and get through your exams with as little stress as possible.
Go on a digital detoxMore than one in three Brits (36 percent) suffer from ‘tech hangovers’ – according to research by Rescue Remedy. Their recent survey shows that the average Brit now spends a staggering 15 hours (14 hours and 54mins) a day attached to their mobile phone, laptop or computer. And worryingly, half of those polled (45 percent) admitted over-use of tech leaves them “exhausted” – with 26 percent complaining it makes them feel “drained”.So give yourself tech free times or zones to make sure you are switching off on a regular basis – this is especially important before you go to bed. Make a rule that you will have a 30 minute tech break before sleeping, to ensure a good nights rest."Louisa Valvano, Chief Marketing and Magic Officer at Stress Management Society.
Get organised and make a list of everything you have to get done. Also mark which tasks are reading, which require thinking creatively, which require memorising etc. Think about how much time should be spent on each subject and start to break that down into manageable chunks of time. Writing “Read Pride and Prejudice” isn’t a great way to do this as it’s a daunting task and likely to cause some stress. Break it down into chapters and designate a few chapters per day. Think about when the best time of day for certain tasks will be, for example, a lot of people have a clearer head in the morning, so that’s a good time to work on memorising dates or equations.
Once you’ve built a revision plan it should all look a lot more achievable and you’ll have a clear structure to follow, now you need to build in reward. Create small rewards for completing each mini-goal and then a larger one when fully completed. Celebrating success is so important because it will encourage you to keep going, and stop that inner critic from rearing its head.
Rewards can be anything from a break in the garden with a magazine to a trip to the cinema with friends. Think of something that will really feel like a treat, follow the plan and you will really feel like you’ve earned it.
You will know what is likely to distract you while you’re learning. Social media? Music? Friends? A busy place with lots of people coming and going?
Get real with yourself and decide how you will learn best. Then create that space. I’d recommend a bright and airy room with everything you need to hand. Prepare some snacks in advance so you don’t use that as a distraction. If a friend wants to revise with you but they are naturally a “stress head” then say no! Emotions are infectious so you won’t want their stress impacting on you. If you want to have music playing then choose something designed to help you focus; Spotify has some great ready-made playlists like Deep Focus and Atmospheric Calm, they tend to be free of too many words so you won’t get pulled in to the music. Finally, turn the social media notifications off on your phone. If you see or hear the notifications then you’ll be more tempted to check them and there’s nothing that can’t wait a few hours.
If you are stressed give yourself a belly rubIf you are mid-revision or about to go in an exam and can feel stress bubbling up, here is a small exercise you can do to try and relieve the stress. Our bodies have certain pressure points that alleviate stress when we message them – one of the most powerful is in the gastric point. To find the optimum point feel two or three finger widths down from your bottom rib, in line with your belly button. It should feel quite sensitive. Then message this area using two fingers. The more you do it, the more stress you will relieve."Louisa Valvano, Chief Marketing and Magic Officer at Stress Management Society.
The following is useful, not only for revision (especially when having some to test you), but also just before and during the actual exam. If you can learn and put into practice state management techniques then they will help you through. These techniques are not just useful for exams, top athletes use them to prepare for events like the Olympics, and they can be used at other times in life, when studying at university or having to deliver a presentation in work.
Relaxation is key to relieving stress, especially if you turn over an exam paper and see a question that you don’t feel confident you can answer. Take a few deep breaths and then take one large breath in whilst counting to 5 in your head. Whilst counting slowly tense your arms and legs until they are at maximum tension on “5”. Hold for a second, and then count down from 5 whilst slowly relaxing. This technique is known as “Speed Relaxation” and was devised to help the women’s GB hockey team take penalties whilst under pressure.
If I ask you to go outside and not look at any red cars that go past, all you will see if red cars. In revision, negative thoughts will stay in your sub-conscious and drive a negative attitude and behaviour. Start to visualise your best result (use your imagination!) because our sub conscious finds it difficult to tell the difference between something that is imagined and something that is actual. Visualise yourself feeling relaxed and comfortable in the exam and your mind will believe it.
3. Mental Rehearsal
Prepare for what is to come. If you rehearse the exam in your head, when you are there the brain will get straight into gear because it will feel like it’s done this many times before. This technique is especially great for practical exams. You want your brain to think “ah yes, I recognise this situation, there is nothing to worry about, I can handle this!”
It’s important to rehearse and mentally prepare yourself for anything, also known as “what if?” and this isn’t a negative, it’s just working out solutions in advance which can only benefit you.
4. Positive Self Talk
This might sound strange, but talking to yourself with encouragement will make a difference! Think about how you talk to a child when you are trying to soothe them, you tell them about all the good things that are going to happen. Do that to yourself (and yes you can do this in your head!) and this is great to do just before an exam. The best way to do this is to keep saying your name in your head whilst mentally talking to yourself. You’ll find that you’re naturally reassuring yourself and this is great to reduce stress.
Above all, learn how to relax and chill. It’s just like learning a sport or training for a marathon, you need to build your revision slowly and find the best fit for you.
Afterwards, when you review how the revision has gone don’t just think of the end result! Review the whole process, considering every aspect both positive and negative. If the result is good, then celebrate but remember to learn from the process. Don’t dwell on a bad result, again, review the whole process. Take control of your revision plan and you can really achieve.
Sophie Coulthard, Associate Director of Judgement Index.
The Judgement Index is a tool used for highlighting potential barriers to performance, including stress, and the team work with lots of young people, including apprentices and young sportspeople. The advice included here is part of their State Management programme. They also have a sister website V Is For Values which focuses on personal development for beginners.