The following blog is written by PAPYRUS volunteer, Nikita Joshi
Exam period brings an undoubtedly a tough time for all students. Academic stress is known to negatively affect student’s performance – but while under pressure from written or practical exams, oral presentations, and deadlines for coursework, how can we manage our stress?
Below are my tips to help you cope with exam stress:
Start in good time.
As university students, we should all have access to a central timetable, even before exams are announced. This means that it is possible to plan in advance. As we have a lot of exams, it is useful to schedule things in an organiser, along with any reports or assignments present in the term. This will allow you to look in advance each week, and not be overwhelmed or surprised by examination announcements when things get busy.
Preparing in advance does not mean increasing your workload to an unfavourable amount and in turn missing out on social events or time for yourself. It simply means there is more time to revisit and get through the material, be more present in lectures and understand the topic better. Preparation could include writing lecture notes and condensing them, making a pneumonic, or reading around the subject. If there are multiple exams and deadlines, spacing things out means that you won’t get as overwhelmed.
Find out how you learn best.
To maximise your learning efforts, I suggest you find out what makes you interested in a topic, and alternatively what does not hold your interest as much. One way to do this is by completing a VARK questionnaire (visit here). From this form, you can find out what type of learner you are – whether that be visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic, and you can direct yourself to aids that might be better suited to you. Perhaps, using more than one route of learning suits you better.
There are many resources outside of lectures, including articles, textbooks and websites, but also plenty of resources on YouTube and social media. Failing that, you can make your own!
Practice makes perfect.
As the old adage goes, practice really does make perfect, this is especially true for presentations. Depending on what topic you are practicing for, if you can take some time out of your day to either utilise models to learn anatomy, or read radiographs, or practice makeup on a model, you will feel more comfortable and prepared when it comes to doing the oral exam.
If you have a presentation coming up, practice delivering it into a mirror, and believe in what you are saying. Practice in front of yourself, your peers, your family perhaps to get comfortable and confident. Then when it comes to the main event, it’s just a matter of delivering something you’ve delivered many times before.
Group work is your friend.
From my own experience, I have found group work to be a useful revision aid and it is great for switching up my routine. Your fellow students and friends are going through the same thing as you are, so this is useful for finding out areas you are weak at, different perspectives and ideas, or question and answer sessions to keep you sharp. It is also a great way of helping you to feel supported, build your confidence and reduce feelings of loneliness as everyone within the group will understand what you are going through.
Don’t overwork yourself.
Many people want to be overachievers; however, a good word-life balance is more important – and most certainly most effective for most of us. This is especially important around exams, as you don’t want to get burnt-out. Allow yourself little treats and time-out periods instead, such as watching your favourite TV show, catching up with someone or taking some time to go for a nice walk.
Don’t let people spook you into thinking that you’re very behind or that everyone is very relaxed. Being a student can sometimes put you in a competitive headspace, but it’s important not to compare yourself to others, just focus on improving yourself. Know that everyone works at their own pace, and you should work at a pace that is not unrealistic but suits your goals.
Slow breathing techniques can help emotional control and psychological wellbeing and ultimately improve your performance and ability to manage stress. Personally, slow, deep breathing helps me to return to the present and get rid of unhelpful thoughts.
Always talk to someone if you are struggling.
Asking for help is not embarrassing or shameful. Chatting to a good friend, family member or tutor can help get things out of your system. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know, you can also lean on services that specialise in mental health and wellbeing. In cases where exam stress is having a significantly negative impact on your mental health and internal thoughts, helplines such as HOPELINE247 can help you navigate your thoughts and keep you safe. These services may also be able to offer you helpful solutions to your problems. You don’t have to go through it alone!
Believe in yourself.
Whether you are in high school, university or college – you can get past this exam! Think about all the great things that you have achieved and try to replace any negative thoughts with this. It’s not the end of the world if you have to re-sit an exam. You are your greatest competition, but it is important to try to keep things in perspective and learn from your mistakes, to improve results. You can do it!