Tips for Dealing with Exam Stress

All forms and levels of academic examinations tend to cause stress for the majority of the students who are to participate therein. The months of May/June of every year are synonymous with the schedule of exams for the senior secondary school level. If there is a barometer for measuring national exam stress levels, it would probably be reading high, as thousands of students in various secondary schools scattered in West Africa, immerse themselves in fervent preparations for examinations.

How to Study

Every student has his or her peculiar way of assimilating knowledge in the course of study. What may work for one student may not necessarily be a panacea for another. However, research of the years from acclaimed educationists suggests that studying is best divided into periods of thirty to forty minutes, with five to fifteen minute breaks between these periods. At the end of three or four periods, students should have half an hour off, with longer breaks for lunch and dinner.

For the daily study routine, it is advisable to divide each day into three units, in consonance with our major meal schedule – morning, afternoon and evening. It is also expedient to prepare a study plan by making a list of all the topics that need to be covered, with an estimate of how long it may take to revise each one. It is advisable to add on plenty of extra topics to the initial plan. Furthermore, the topics ought to be divided between units. In planning, it’s good to leave a minimum of six units of free time per week and which should also include some exercise in the routine. Switching between different modes of revision helps to hold the student’s interest and the better absorption of information. Every student has his or her favourite subjects. Mix dull subjects with more interesting ones. Always begin the study periods with something easy and interesting before delving into the difficult subjects.

The Role of Exercise

Managing stress and relieving the symptoms of examination stress can be accomplished by having a regular exercise routine. Regular and consistent exercise will not only alleviate stress but will also contribute to overall health and a feeling of wellbeing. Exercise essentially burns away the chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine that cause stress. At the same time, vigorous exercise releases endorphins into the system. Endorphins are morphine-like hormones that are responsible for the feeling of elation, or well being that distance runners get from running. Other chemicals like dopamine and serotonin are also released in the brain during exercising. These chemicals give a feeling of safety and security that contributes to off-setting some of the “internal” causes of stress, such as uncertainty, pessimism and negative self-talk.

To benefit from exercise, it needs to be regular. Exercise needs to be part of a daily routine although, during preparations for exams, the last thing that can be on a student’s mind is exercising. But there are ways exercise can be inserted into a student’s schedule. For example, a student should take the time to go for a brisk walk, a run or work out at a gym? Since exercise reduces stress chemically, it can also have a meditative effect during sustained cardiovascular work outs. The rhythmic running on the open road or treadmill can relax and clear the mind. When the mind is clear, it is in a better frame to assist the brain in the assimilation of knowledge.

Meditate on the Word of God

There is scientific evidence to suggest that meditation on the Word of God can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Try the following relaxation routine. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply as you dwell deeply on the promises of God. There are tens of scriptures in the Bible that assure us of God’s love and presence even in the moments of trial. Think of how God through the Holy Spirit is making you a better scholar. While meditating on the Word of God, locate any areas of tension in your body and try to relax your muscles. See God’s healing touch and imagine the tension disappearing. Relax each part of the body, from your feet to the top of your head. As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth and relaxation. After 20 minutes, take some deep breaths and stretch.

Do not Deny Yourself Sleep.

Drooping eyelids are better allowed to close and go to sleep. Students should create time to unwind between work and bed, stopping academic work the moment their bodies demand sleep. It’s worthwhile to take a warm bath with a few drops of lavender oil in the water. Avoid sleeping aids (including herbs) the night before an exam unless you have tried them before and your body is accustomed to it, as they may leave you feeling groggy in the morning. Avoid coffee and kola nuts after 6 pm. Beverages like Horlicks and Complan can be useful in aiding sleep.

Nourish Your Brain

The plain truth is that although the brain represents only 2 per cent of body weight, it accounts for almost 20 per cent of resting energy expenditure. Supplying it with healthy, regular meals and snacks can improve mental performance. Meals rich in fibre and fruits in season come in handy in this regard. A large meal can make you feel tired, so have your main course and then dessert a little later. Studying has a way of draining energy. Eat something every two to three hours. In between meals, have a variety of healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, small packets of dried fruit or cereal bars. Avoid snacks that fill you with calories and no nutrients. A breakfast cereal (like cornflakes or oatmeal) with milk provides a good snack at any time of the day.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Dehydration can reduce blood flow to the brain, thereby causing headaches which will affect concentration. Take in fluids regularly, water being the best fluid to consume. Fruit juices and milk can complement regular intake of water. Most students preparing for exams will often depend on coffee. Studies suggest that caffeine improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times, but the average doctor advises against over-reliance on so-called “stimulant/energy drinks.” Many energy drinks have an active ingredient called taurine which can increase blood pressure and slow heart-rate.

Refuse to worry!

Many students worry about an exam they’re yet to write. They often feel that they’re behind schedule and that the time table will never be covered. In many instances, the student has nothing to fear except the fear of the exams itself. Peradventure, if you don’t understand some of your course material, getting stressed out will not solve your problems. Rather, take action by seeing the teacher of the subject or asking your class mates to help you out with the areas you do not understand. Confiding in someone you trust and who will listen and be supportive is a great way of reducing stress and worry. Above all, believe in yourself. Listen to motivational tapes and c.d.s. My favourite motivational speaker is Les Brown. Any time after listening to him, I’m confident that I can do anything. Avoid negative people and folks who feed your doubts. Refuse to put yourself under pressure. You should aspire to do your best but recognise that there is more to writing exams than grades.

Tips for the Revision Period:

Take a break.

The moment you realise that you are losing concentration, it means it is time to go for a break. Take a short break. Go for a walk if possible, talk to a friend or just listen to some therapeutic music like classical music. The break should refresh you, and you should be able to concentrate on your revision again.

Manage your time!

Plan for the exam. Planning for the exams means that you have started reading early. Boost your confidence and reduce any pre-exam stress by avoiding last minute cramming. When you leave plenty of time to revise, it implies that you know that you have prepared well.


Ensure you create time to have fun and relax as this is necessary for study sessions. Review your timetable so that you can track and monitor your progress.

Eat well and properly!

Avoid junk foods and rather replace your menu with healthy meals and fruits, nuts and fluids. Your brain will benefit from the nutrients. Sugars are not advisable. Replace sweets and sugar with bananas, apples, oily fish, nuts and water melon. These kinds of foods can help boost your concentration, energy and attitude.

Give your mind and body a workout.

Swimming is the best form of exercise for our bodies as all our muscles are involved in it. Engage in regular moderate exercises such as a brisk walk, swimming or a session in the gym to boost your energy levels, clear your mind, and help reduce any feelings of stress.

Tips for Keeping Calm During the Exam:

Try to avoid panic.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety before starting an exam, and that can be a positive and motivating feeling if moderate. However, getting excessively nervous is counterproductive as it hinders your ability to think clearly.

Breathe deep.

The quickest and most effective way of eliminating feelings of stress and panic is to shut your eyes and take several long, slow deep breaths. Breathing in this way calms your whole nervous system. If it feels like your mind is going blank, don’t panic because panic makes it harder to recall what you know. Rather, focus on slow deep breathing for about one minute or two. If you still can’t remember the information then move on to another question and return to this question later. Many spend time reflecting on previous exams they wrote. Don’t spend time focusing where you think you made mistakes. Most students are often their worst critics. There is a need to appreciate yourself and then move on.

The Role of Parents

Many parents are often the matrix of exam stress for their wards. They set impracticable goals and expectations for their children. Even if students manage to maintain their composure, their parents may often be fretting over whether their offspring are doing sufficient work.

Parents should show care while not appearing over-anxious. Nagging, fussing and close interrogation about revision progress are less helpful than practical support. Young people at this time need self-discipline and parents can help them to impose that. Parents can help to structure a revision timetable and ensure that their Children should be provided with somewhere quiet to study. Parents monitor breaks and ensure that this does not last too long. Young people need about eight hours sleep. Parents have a role in seeing that they don’t stay up too late and that they get up at a reasonable time in the morning.

Good luck!

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