6 Ways to Help Minimize the Stress of Exams
If you’re a college student, you’ll almost certainly need to take plenty of tests, especially during the midterm and final exam periods each semester. This can be a stressful time, as it’s likely these tests will have a big impact on your grades.
Strategies for how to handle exam stress most effectively will vary from student to student, but it’s important to get the emotional support you need from friends, family members, and classmates. For example, you could think about the good friend who makes you laugh and puts life into perspective—then call, text, or visit them.
Being prepared can also help you deal with stress. We’ve pulled together six strategies that might make test-taking season easier by ensuring that you’re well prepared.
1. Trying Not to Procrastinate
If you find that you procrastinate from time to time, don’t be too hard on yourself. Apparently 80% to 95% of college students are in the same boat. Having said that, it’s a good idea to try to overcome procrastination tendencies.
According to Robert Hessling , a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, the trick is to avoid waiting until you feel motivated to study. Instead, simply get started and you might be surprised to find out that the process isn’t as unpleasant as you’d anticipated.
Don’t simply assume that all will work out, regardless of what you do. Instead, make a plan to keep moving you forward. Schedule times to study, and then follow through. You might find it productive to get the most difficult assignments completed first, and use the resources available to help you complete the task, like joining a study group.
Be realistic about how much studying you can get done in a certain period of time to avoid cramming. You could also try studying at the same time each day to create a routine, and to avoid studying too long, as that can become ineffective.
2. Finding the Right Place to Study
One of the keys to successful studying is location. A good idea is to find somewhere with minimal distractions that’s comfortable and has access to the information you need. This article shares several good places to study, including the library, which, as we all know, can be a quiet and comfortable place to focus where you have ready access to books, the internet, and helpful librarians.
There are other good spots, like your room or apartment, if they’re quiet enough and have limited distractions—you can even stay in your pajamas. A coffee shop might also be a smart choice, unless it gets too noisy or it’s a place where friends might stop by and want to chat. Look for one that offers WiFi access. You could also try a bookstore, a park, or an empty classroom.
For some students, studying with friends or classmates can be effective; you can compare notes and help one another tackle tough topics. For others, studying with friends can be distracting—or, it may just come down to knowing with which friends you’ll be able to stay on track. Know your own personality and style, and choose wisely.
3. Pacing Yourself
If you find that exam stress is getting to you, find ways to schedule 20-minute breaks throughout your day. Taking short breaks from your books can allow you to relax and come back to your studying when you feel more refreshed. Breaks can include going for a short walk, calling a friend, or whatever else helps you relax.
Get creative : stretch at your desk, read a short story, watch an entertaining video, update your online passwords, clean out a desk drawer, make your ultimate song playlist, construct a sculpture out of paperclips (or whatever other odds and ends you have handy)—do anything that allows you to briefly shift gears before returning to your studies.
Note which of these work especially well for you, and return to them, as needed. And if you know that certain activities tend to make you more stressed—whether that’s watching the news or calling that one cousin who tends to worry about everything—avoid these activities until exam time is over.
4. Fueling Yourself With Healthy Foods
According to new research conducted in Australia, students are using junk foods and sugary drinks to help them cope with exam stress. While the sugar and caffeine boosts might help in the short term, they could lead to poor physical and mental health.
There are many ways you can eat strategically as part of exam stress management. Researchers acknowledge that it’s natural to reach for comfort foods while under stress, but the better the quality of fuel you provide your brain, the better your mental performances can be.
Recommended strategies can include making basic food swaps: Reach for whole-grain crackers with cheese and tomato, rather than a piece of cake; or make a fruit smoothie instead of guzzling an energy drink.
Drinking plenty of water can also be helpful. Consider taking a reusable water bottle wherever you go and refill it as often as needed. Sip while you study.
Specific foods to consider include meat, fish (especially oily fish that provide Omega-3 as well as protein), eggs, dried beans and lentils, fresh fruits and vegetables, and more. If you do decide to use caffeine, moderate amounts of tea, coffee, and dark chocolate are also on the list.
5. Getting Enough Good Sleep
According to the American Institute of Stress , stress might lead you to get caught in a “vicious cycle of bad sleep and stress.” For example, when you’re stressed out about upcoming midterms or finals, your heart rate may increase along with your levels of adrenaline. Your body interprets those signals as your being in a “state of perpetual danger”—in other words, in a state where it wouldn’t be safe to sleep.
If you’re not sleeping, you might fill yourself up with caffeine during the day to get through, which, in turn, can make it even harder to get good sleep. When your body doesn’t get enough rest, it’s hard to be at your best, potentially leading to more stress, making it even harder to fall asleep.
To help, the National Sleep Foundation offers tips for better sleep. This includes sticking to a sleep schedule, which helps to regulate your body’s internal clock. Avoid naps to see if that helps and find a relaxing ritual that helps you calm down before bedtime. Exercise regularly and avoid alcohol, cigarettes, heavy or spicy meals, and caffeine in the evenings. If necessary, consult your doctor.
6. Taking Advantage of School Resources
As you’re trying to figure out how to face exam stress, don’t overlook what might be right in front of you: resources provided by your college to help students in your situation. Your professors want you to succeed, and so do school administrators and counselors, so reach out and ask what assistance is available.
For example, your college might have a stellar writing center where people are available to help you outline and edit your paper. There may be a tutoring center where you can receive assistance with concepts that aren’t entirely clear to you yet.
After the Exams
Here’s a bonus tip! Once you get past the exams and graduate in earnest, it can help to have a solid plan in place, which may include how to address your student debt.
If your looming student loans are causing you stress, there may be some avenues to explore, such as consolidating your student loans into one, and refinancing them at a lower interest rate. In the interest of transparency, SoFi strongly recommends that you explore all your federal options before refinancing with a private lender.
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