How to prevent exam agony

Jack Coles presents tips to help reduce stress before exams

14th December 2016

Exams are coming! Or, at least they are for you. I don’t have exams this winter, so I can spend as much time as I like writing this article, eating chocolate digestives, looking really smug, and… I just remembered that I have two extended assignments due in this week.

Oh well. Those can wait. Here are some tried and tested solutions for de-stressing.

Do some exercise. Stress, by large, is caused by a repeating innervation of the sympathetic nervous system and production of stimulating hormones. It’s essentially a “fight or flight” response that simply doesn’t go anywhere, leaving a lot of nervous energy that doesn’t get expended. By doing something active, you metabolically inform your body that the danger has passed (even though the brain still knows about the exam).

Also “exercise”, doesn’t necessarily mean “go to the gym”. You could run in the park, play the drums, jump up and down to a local band, dance a salsa. Anything besides sitting down and revising will help.

Get out of and go to bed on time. I know that we’re students and that sleeping into the afternoon is just something we’re supposed to do, but if you try to set regular timings for sleep then you will find yourself feeling much better as a result. It’s not necessary to follow a sleep regime religiously, but pulling all-nighters or using a random number generator to determine your sleep pattern is not the healthiest of options. Try to cut down on naps and afternoon caffeine in the long term as well.

Set up a timetable and a to do list. By ensuring that you do a set amount of revision each day, you can mitigate or even completely remove the build-up of unrevised lectures just before the exam. It’s a good idea to try to leave a blank day before an exam so that any spill-over can be handled and to look over all your notes one last time.

Similarly, writing a to do list each day helps organise your thoughts. Revision should be a priority in these lists, but so should other things like eating regular meals and paying your rent.

Talk to a friend. People assure me that humans are sociable creatures. Social connections are an integral part of mental wellbeing, but staying at home revising tends to minimise the contact you may have with people. Revising in a library is little better, as many people prefer it to be a quiet place in which to work (so having a loud conversation there is a no-no). If you haven’t spoken to anyone lately, pick up your phone, and call someone. Anyone. Even your parents. You’d be surprised how much better you feel after hearing someone’s voice on the phone who isn’t trying to sell you something.

Take a break. You might think that you need to work flat-out for several hours to get anywhere, but this usually does more harm than good. You’ll just end up exhausting yourself. Taking a short 5-minute break every half hour or so to do something else will really help you relax. If you had a particularly good revision session, reward yourself with a jelly bean or something.

Don’t talk about the exam afterwards. Bit of a weird one, but it’s especially useful if you have another exam approaching. Don’t discuss what you put for question 14b, just walk away. Eat a pizza. Have a pint. Start revising again. Whatever. Just don’t talk about what you wrote in that exam, as it will likely destroy your spirit and leave you in a worse mental position afterwards. If you really need to talk about your exam, then find someone who is on a completely different course so that they won’t understand a word you’re saying – that way, you avoid self-doubt from being told that Ouagadougou is actually the capital of Burkina Faso, not Cameroon.

Give up

I have no idea if this piece of “advice” is going to even be allowed to go to print, but if you stop caring about your exams – really stop caring, not just saying it to look cool – then stress levels will drop overnight. Probably a bad idea though. If you go through with this it’s on your head, not mine.

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