Combating Exam Stress and Anxiety

For most students, simply the thought of exams can cause significant angst. In addition to being an unpleasant experience, overly stressed brains don’t learn (nor perform) effectively.

Stress and anxiety should be actively managed in the lead up to, and including the day of exams. Therefore mental management should form a part of every student’s exam preparation strategy.

Below, are three tips teachers can share with their students, helping them keep the exam butterflies at bay.

Commit to early planning At its very basic, anxiety is thought fuelled from ‘worry’ about a perceived threat in the future. With respect to exams, the underlying threat is typically the fear of failure. A common response upon encountering exam nerves is to either ‘suppress’ or ‘avoid’. In such situations, procrastination is a common coping strategy, given it involves avoiding unpleasant tasks and associated feelings. However, over the long term, procrastination reinforces the stress response in addition to robbing valuable preparation time!

Therefore – and as simple as it sounds – a practical strategy students can use to manage this stress is to commit to early planning. Whether it be auditing knowledge gaps against subject syllabuses, or creating a study timetable. Early planning harnesses negative energy, helping students ‘do’ rather than ‘worry’. Additionally, when done thoroughly, early preparation often feeds confidence, as opposed to worry about failure.

Take Perspective – Yes, exams are important. However, they are not ‘life’ and ‘death’. Yet the irony is that they are often perceived as a real life ‘threat’ – producing the same emotional reaction as if encountering a snake or bear! The common response is often disproportionate to the actual reality. Sighting examples of successful students (or even famous people) who have had successful careers – or bounced back – after not performing as well as they hoped, can be a great way to put things into perspective, and lower anxiety levels. Finally, encouraging students to view exams as an opportunity to showcase what is known, as opposed to a threat exposing what isn`t known, is a great way to ‘free the mind’ to think more positively.

Exercise Strategically – Often referred to as a ‘silver bullet’, there is no pharmaceutical drug that can provide what exercise does. Not only do the endorphins elevate mood, but exercise feeds the brain with a naturally occurring fertilizer, Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). This helps one think more clearly and solve problems with greater ease – an obvious benefit for study.

However, exercise is usually the first thing most students stop when preparing for exams given the time and energy it consumes. Yet, exercise creates more mental energy than it takes, helping improve productivity. As such, exercise is arguably needed the most in busy periods – such as during exams – when energy is at a premium.

Recommending that your students incorporate at least 30 minutes of “huff and puff” exercise into one’s daily exam preparation schedule, will work wonders for their preparation; simultaneously reducing stress, while improving sleep quality, focus and energy levels.

Can you imagine the difference to stress and anxiety levels if students were entering a midday exam following a morning jog and light refresh of notes – as opposed to two hours of group cramming in a stress fuelled environment?

I hope you found this article useful.

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