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Avoiding exam stress

When it comes to exam time a lot of student’s anxiety levels start rising. Fear of failure in exams can turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as panic sets in, concentration drops and memory is adversely affected. Check out our tips below for beating exam-time anxiety and stress:

  1. Stick to the plan If you have a lot of exams coming up it’s essential you have a revision plan. Identify the subjects you know you are weaker on than others and tackle them first. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time before the exams start to prevent panic from setting in. Make the plan realistic – you will need to include time for breaks, socialising and sleeping! Don’t leave everything to the last minute and study 23 hours a day.
  2. Be realistic If you’ve always been a C student it’s unlikely you’re going to get straight A’s. Setting yourself unrealistic goals is sure to get your anxiety levels up. Your best is all you can do, so don’t expect anything better. As long as you have given it your best shot you should be happy with your results no matter what they are.
  3. Always have a fallback plan If you don’t get the grades you needed to get onto the course you wanted to study, know what you’re going to do instead. It’s not the end of the world. You never know where different paths in life will take you, so be excited about the future whatever happens! Life would be very boring if it all turned out just the way we expected. If you are hell-bent on getting onto your course there are always options. It may mean deferring for a year, getting some practical experience, retaking some subjects etc. You may end up doing something far more exciting that you hadn’t even thought of.
  4. Get some exercise Take regular study breaks and get some fresh air or exercise. Oxygen is the best medicine for your brain when it comes to memory retention and concentration. You can only really absorb information for about 20 minutes at a time, so to give the things you’ve learnt time to sink in, take a 15 minute break, go for a run or a brisk walk and get some air into your lungs.
  5. Go over past exams: Grab a copy of some past exam papers and try yourself out on them. This should give you an idea of the kinds and levels of questions that are going to come up. If you can’t do a particular question take it to your teacher (or private tutor) and ask them to work through it with you.
  6. Understand, don’t just memorise: With topics like mathematics and sciences, make sure you understand and haven’t just memorised parrot-fashion the concepts outlined in the course. Questions in exams are generally designed to find out if you understand the course material rather than if you just have a good memory. Good exam performance is down to a good understanding and a good memory of course.
  7. Eat well: According to research published in 2003, kids breakfasting on fizzy drinks and sugary snacks performed at the level of an average 70-year-old in tests of memory and attention. Beans on toast is a far better combination, as Barbara Stewart from the University of Ulster, UK, discovered. The breakfast with the high-protein beans worked best. Beans are also a good source of fibre, and other research has shown a link between a high-fibre diet and improved cognition. Wholemeal toast with Marmite makes a great alternative. The yeast extract is packed with B vitamins, whose brain-boosting powers have been demonstrated in many studies.
    • Omelette and salad is a great brain-boosting meal. A salad packed full of antioxidants should keep your brain in tip-top condition by helping to mop up damaging free radicals.
    • Eat some yoghurt for dessert- yoghurt contains the amino acid tyrosine. Studies by the US military indicate that tyrosine becomes depleted when we are under stress and that supplementing your intake can improve alertness and memory.
    • Try to snack throughout the day to maintain your glucose levels. Avoid junk food, especially processed foods like cakes, pastries and biscuits, which contain trans-fatty acids. These have been implicated in a lot of serious mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism.
  8. Work smarter, not harder!: Repeatedly reading through massive amounts of text isn’t going to do you any good at all. Take a highlighter and pick out the key sentences you need to remember or understand and then write them out in your own words to ensure you understand them. Make sure you go over them at least 3 times over the space of a few days to cement them in your memory.
  9. Ask for help: Help is available everywhere. Ask your teacher, tutor or maybe a friend who’s on the same course. Wikipedia, AskJeeves and Google will often be able to provide answers to the most obscure questions. Never be afraid of asking for help, it’s what your teachers are there for.
  10. Relax: If you are panicking or struggling with a particular question in an exam situation just take a moment to re-orient yourself, make sure you are comfortable, close your eyes and take 3 or 4 long, slow deep breaths. Move onto another question and more often than not, when you’re thinking about something else entirely the answer or idea you were looking for will magically pop into your head!