Midterms, finals, provincial achievement tests, diploma exams… No matter what you call them, big tests can cause big stress.
Some of you will experience an increase in blood pressure just by reading the title of this article!
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to reduce your exam anxiety, stay healthy and perform at your best.
This article shares healthy living tips for students (and parents) on how to energize the brain, fuel the body and reduce stress during exam times.
Be Active When You Study
The first step is to energize your study time. Yes, it’s important to have a quiet, distraction-free place for some extended power studying, but blood pools in the feet and seat after more than 20 minutes of sitting down. To restore the blood flow to your brain, take mini-activity breaks like stretching, going to the bathroom on a different floor or dancing.
After a long study session your brain may feel tired, but your body needs to move. Go for a run or a bike ride, shoot some hoops or walk your dog. This will renew your energy level and also help you sleep better.
On the day of the exam, be sure to engage in some moderate physical activity to warm up your body and brain for writing the exam.
When you’re writing the exam, ask your supervisor if you can stand, stretch and move a little. Even a good sitting stretch is better than nothing.
Try this relaxation technique: tighten up every muscle in your body starting with your feet and moving up; then relax each muscle in the same order.
Feed Your Brain
Don’t forget that your brain needs healthy fuel to do its job properly. Good food = good mood. Avoid unhealthy snacks while studying and instead have plenty of water and a small supply of fruit, veggies or nuts.
It helps to schedule regular snack breaks because this will encourage you to take regular breaks from studying. You need regular breaks to stay mentally alert.
Be sure to eat breakfast on the day of an exam. Even a small cup of yogurt or a piece of fruit helps. If you have an early exam, ask your supervisor if you can bring breakfast with you.
Finally, be sure to bring a bottle of water and some healthy snacks to munch during your exam. Make sure your snacks are quiet, so you don’t disturb others with your crunching.
Watch Your Time
Last-minute cramming is often counterproductive and can send your stress level through the roof. Managing your time well can go a long way toward reducing your stress.
Plan your study schedule for exams a few weeks in advance, especially when you have three or four in one week. Plan to study at times when you’re alert and able to focus.
Schedule some variety into your study schedule:
- Don’t spend too much time on one topic.
- Have a family member or friend ask you questions.
- Try teaching the concepts you need to know to the person who is helping you. (Teaching is also a great way to learn.)
Set up a study niche—a comfortable, quiet place with no distractions—and use this place consistently. (It also helps if this has been your study space throughout the term.)
Don’t forget to consider your personal sleep needs. It doesn’t work to deprive your body of sleep in favour of more study time. Instead, stick to your study schedule and get plenty of rest.
Exam time is likely to increase your stress level. Some of that is good stress that helps you focus on the task at hand. The important thing is to manage your stress. With planning and preparation, you can reduce your exam stress and make it a positive thing. Try some of the tips above and remember to feed your mind, exercise your body and manage your time.
A downloadable PDF brochure from the Alberta Mental Health Board on reducing exam stress.
Tips for Reducing Exam Anxiety
Tips for dealing with exam stress from the University of Alberta.