The average student feels at least some level of anxiety before an important exam. But for some individuals, that stress can be severe.
As schools administer an increasing number of standardized and high-stakes college admissions tests, it is important to learn how to combat that anxiety. The following five strategies can help you overcome exam-related stress.
1. Breathe: Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
Pause a moment after inhaling, long enough to mark the change from in to out. Then exhale evenly and fully before beginning again.
Breathing may sound too easy to be useful, but deliberately expanding your chest to take a deep breath relaxes your muscles and encourages them to work normally again. As a bonus, the increased flow of oxygen helps energize your brain. Best of all, this technique takes only a moment, so use it just before your test begins or during a particularly difficult section.
2. Set aside time for Yourself: You may feel a tremendous pressure to dedicate every waking moment to studying, but it is still important to allot part of your schedule to resting and reconnecting with the people you love.
Go on a walk to enjoy the fresh air, eat dinner with your family, play with your pets or brew a cup of tea.
This is not permission to procrastinate. Research show that your brain requires time to integrate knowledge. If you never slow the flow of information, your mind becomes saturated at a faster rate than you can store new data.
Downtime is a prescription for becoming more focused and capable, when used in moderation. Set a time if you must, but do not neglect your joy, especially while preparing for an important exam.
3. Exercise: Multiple studies have proved that physical exercise is a remarkably effective antidote to stress.
Like the breathing exercises outline above, exercise prompts you to focus on your body rather than your worries.
Many students carry their stress in the bodies, and exercise moves your muscles, increases blood flow and works out a good percentage of body knots. When you return to studying, your focus will be much improved.
The most useful side effect of increased blood flow is the increased circulation that extends well beyond the end of your exercise session. Blood carries oxygen, and your brain must have oxygen to work properly while you review. Nothing will decrease your test stress faster than realizing that you are learning and making progress.
4. Sleep: There is a persistent and damaging myth that pulling an all-nighter indicates your seriousness when preparing for an exam.
In truth studying all evening is the worst possible response to anxiety. Not only is it nearly impossible to remember material read at 3 a.m., but a lack of sleep clouds your mind the next day and perhaps into the week beyond.
Worse, fatigue damages your resilience. Stress is hard on your body. Breathing exercises, downtime and exercise can alleviate the effects of anxiety, but none of them will be as effective as sleep.
Sleep is how short-term memories formed while studying become long-term memories that can be recalled during test-taking.
5. Take control of your preparation: Too often, academic stress comes from feeling a lack of control over a situation.
While other people will be writing the test questions and grading your answers, you have the power to prepare. Creating a schedule with concrete goals will give you a sense of progression as you complete required tasks before the big day.
For example, if a student is struggling with preparation for the verbal section of an exam, give them a goal of memorizing a list of 500 vocabulary words over the course of two months. It sounds like an intimidating and ambitious goal, but when broken down into pieces, the student realized that 10 words per day was a very achievable task.
At times, stress is unavoidable, especially when preparing for major exams. A little stress is a strong motivator, but a lot of stress is harmful and hurts your performance. Use the techniques outline above to keep your balance.
Omega Learning® Center also offers remediation and test prep. Our tutors help your student efficiently study and prepare for tests using study skills including validated test-taking strategies, improving listening skills, note-taking skills, and time management.