The following blog is written by PAPYRUS volunteer, Nikita Joshi
Exams can be a difficult time. Academic stress is known to negatively affect student’s performance1,2, but under pressure from written or practical exams, oral presentations, and deadlines for course work – how can we manage our 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 missing out on social events and relaxing time for yourself, but it does mean 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 don’t get as overwhelmed.
Find out how you learn best
Find out what makes you interested in a topic, and what does not hold your interest as much, in order to maximise your learning efforts. One way to do this is by doing a VARK questionnaire3. From here you can find out what type of learner you are – 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
This is especially true for presentations. If you can take some time out of your day to do 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 your presentation in the mirror, and believe in what you are saying. Practice in front of yourself, your peers, your family perhaps. Then 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 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. The social support can also give you confidence and autonomy4.
Many people want to be overachievers, however, a good word-life balance is more important. This is especially important around exams, as you don’t want to get burnt-out. Give yourself little treats instead, such as watching your favourite TV show, catching up with someone or taking some time out 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 head space, 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 wellbeing5. 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. They may 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!
- Crego A, Carrillo-Diaz M, Armfield JM, Romero M. Stress and academic performance in dental students: the role of coping strategies and examination-related self-efficacy. Journal of dental education. 2016 Feb 1;80(2):165-72.
- MacGeorge EL, Samter W, Gillihan SJ. Academic stress, supportive communication, and health. Communication Education. 2005 Oct 1;54(4):365-72.
- Fleming ND. VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles. Online information available at: http://www.vark-learn.com [Accessed April 2020].
- Macgowan MJ, Wong SE. Improving student confidence in using group work standards: A controlled replication. Research on Social Work Practice. 2017 Jul;27(4):434-40.
- Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, Garbella E, Menicucci D, Neri B, Gemignani A. How breath-control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience. 2018 Sep 7;12:353.