A Clinical Psychologist Explains The Best Way To Combat Exam Stress

Posted by Dr. Rajat Thukral in Education
April 13, 2017

Even after having attempted countless competitive exams, the thought of appearing in another exam creates a ripple effect in my body. It floods my mind with memories – clammy hands, adrenaline pumping through my nerves, thinking of worst case scenarios in my mind, inability to concentrate and the feeling of not having read anything related to the subject. The worst was of preparing for the wrong exam altogether!

Over time, I learned that studying for exams is a combination of various skill sets that were not taught to us in school. To overcome the nervousness and fear of failing, one requires a proactive approach to studying. As a clinical psychologist, I have provided guidance to many students on studying effectively. Following are a few of the things I suggest.

Create An Effective Study Schedule

We all know that cramming last minute for an exam is not an effective strategy, especially if you want to retain the information for a longer term. If you tell your brain to just study for this one exam, the brain will follow that direction and will only store information for that one exam. You are likely to forget that information soon afterwards. Instead, if you want to remember information for long term then you need a long term strategy.

  • Try to read the chapter before the teacher introduces the subject to you and read it again afterwards when you get back home. This a proactive approach to learning, where you have cued your brain to key topics of the chapter and have revised them quickly afterwards. This helps retaining the information better, thereby reducing the stress before your exam.
  • Follow 80/20 rule. Read the highlighted or summary sections of the chapter or class notes to know what’s most important to remember. Learning 20% of the information in summary section, helps you remember the rest 80%.
  • Create a system to track your syllabus over the semester or year. An effective planner includes a list of all the projects and exams along with pre-planned study or preparation time over the course of the full semester.
  • Study in chunks. Break down the big tasks and projects into smaller parts and set smaller times frames in your planner to complete each chunk. Our brain gets overwhelmed when it senses “big tasks” but if you break them down into smaller chunks, you will be able to accomplish it before your deadline.

    Stress during examinations is one of the prime reasons for students to not score well. Effective time management is the key to solve this problem.
  • Create a study schedule where you block one hour time slots for intensive learning followed by a break for 15-30 minutes to relax your brain. Some of the activities you can do to relax your brain are exercises, walk, mindfulness, listen to music, relaxation exercises, chat with a friend (not the one who is stressed though!).
  • Block distracting activities. Turn off your cell-phone or social networking sites to make the most out of your study time.
  • Study with a purpose. Have a curious mind and think of questions about the topic that you’d like to know more about, based on reading a chapter from your book. Make notes and create mind maps to associate new concepts with previously learned information.
  • Studying well, deserves to be rewarded. If you don’t treat yourself with a favorite activity, food, or TV, then you may feel the burnout sooner.
  • Eat healthy and sleep well. Eating nutritious and healthy food is crucial. Healthy fats, such as coconut oil, avocado, fish, and nuts are excellent sources for brain development. A sleepless night can cause immense damage to your body’s immune system and to the brain’s capacity to concentrate. Sleep and wake-up at the same time, as it maintains the body’s rhythm and you can avoid sleep disturbances.
  • To worry about an exam is a job, so create a “worry time” in your planner to stress about the exam. This will help in increasing your concentration levels when you sit down to study. We need a little bit of anxiety to perform well in our exams. High anxiety, on the other hand, can diminish your capacity to do well. Try some breathing and meditational exercises to calm your nerves on daily basis. Meditation can boost your brain’s functioning and helps cope with stress effectively.

Hope this helps! I will be happy to answer your questions.