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10 strategies to cope with exam stress

By Kathy 02 Jun 2019
Image of study book on study desk.


Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. - Hans Selye

It’s that time of semester again, when students find themselves cramming at all hours of the day and night, stress eating and generally just trying to stop the pressure of assessment from taking over their lives … It’s exam time!

There’s so much advice out there on how to cope with exam stress and what you can do to maximise your results, but having been through a few exam blocks myself, all I can say is that it’s a process of trial and error to find what works best for you. The most important thing is to keep trying! Don’t let the stress of exams overwhelm you and put you into a negative headspace.

Here are 10 strategies I’ve tried and tested to help you stay on top of your exam stress and in a positive mindset:

1. Start preparing for exams at the very beginning of the semester.

While exams seem far away in those first few weeks of study, that’s actually the prime time to be setting yourself up for end-of-semester success. Stay on top of your note taking and revision and you’ll be on track for a much less stressful exam block. Using a weekly timetable can help you stay on top of your study and revision.

2. As exam block approaches, condense your study notes into more succinct revision pages or flash cards.

This means you don’t have to go searching through textbooks or lecture slides when it comes to the end of semester. All the hard work has already been done!

3. Prioritise a healthy diet.

Hearty, nutritious meals will not only help to keep you feeling good, but they’ll fuel your brain will lots of essential vitamins and nutrients to help you stay focused in your study sessions. While it’s normal to want to reach for the chocolate, high-sugar diets will give you big highs and lows in energy and concentration. Plan ahead, cook in advance and stock up on healthy study snacks.

4. Keep up your exercise routine.

Whether it’s running, weights, Pilates or a daily walk, keep doing whatever it is that relaxes your body and clears your mind. Long study sessions can be draining, so put on your trainers and get those endorphins going!

5. Make time for friends and family and keep things balanced.

Even though there is a lot going on around exam time, I still like to have coffee with friends and spend time with my family. Laughter is the best medicine for stress, so prioritise spending time with people who bring a smile to your face.

6. As hard as it is, try not to procrastinate.

Once you get started on study, you’ll get into ‘the zone’ and find it much easier to keep going. Procrastination always seems fun and harmless at the time, but it can really compound pre-exam stress. USQ alumnus Nick has some great tips to help you stay on track.

7. Don’t sit for too long doing your work.

Study for an hour, then get up and go for a stroll and, again, clear your mind and think about what you have just studied. If you’re feeling really settled or don’t want to lose your prime study spot, these tips will help you to de-stress without leaving your desk. But remember, study breaks are important!

8. Have a study session with members in your class.

I find this helps, especially if you are struggling with a particular concept. It’s also a great way to test your knowledge of the course material. Having to explain a concept out loud will demonstrate how confident you are with the material and you’re surrounded by other students who can give you feedback or a heads up if there’s something you missed.

9. Keep that block of chocolate or bag of lollies handy for a hard-earned study reward!

Keeping in mind tip #3, save your sugary treats for those big study achievements or for an end-of-study-sesh reward. I find a glass of red wine does the trick too!

10. If all else fails, just take a deep breath and remind yourself you can do it and exams will all be over soon!

Go for a massage if you need, you deserve it.

It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome. – William James

As a last (and bonus) piece of advice, whenever I start to feel like it’s all just getting too much, I love to watch this pep talk by Kid President. In amongst the stress and worry of exams, his cuteness and wisdom is just the right thing to keep you motivated and on track to get through exams! Always keep in mind that if you're finding exam stress is really getting to you and you'd like to talk someone about it, USQ’s counselling services are free and available to all currently enrolled students.

If you’ve left your exam prep to the very last minute and even these 10 tips can’t help you, you’re not the only one. Use these helpful strategies to beat procrastination next time.

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