A Comprehensive Guide to Coping with Exam Stress

Written By Ranjika B.

With the upcoming examinations, it is normal for students to get stressed and anxious. Our previous blog post touched upon some techniques that you can use to prevent getting stressed and anxious, and we would highly recommend those techniques to be continued during exam preparation. However, it is completely normal to see students getting stressed due to an upcoming examination, even if they are maintaining good sleep habits and a healthy lifestyle. This blog post will cover what the specific type of exam stress is, and how you can combat it.

What causes exam stress?

In order to combat exam stress, it is firstly important to identify why you are stressed. Identifying your feelings, and the reason you are experiencing them gives you more power over them and allows you to combat them in a more efficient way. Examinations tend to have strong consequences. For example, the upcoming DP examinations have strong implications for your grades and college decisions. Sometimes, in fear of negative consequences, students tend to get extremely stressed and anxious. There is a strong fear of negative consequences that comes into play to result in these negative feelings.

Another cause of exam stress is the very timebound nature of these tests. This can be due to an underlying problem of poor time management. Having to think on your feet without consulting your peers or notes within a fixed amount of time is another cause of stress. For these reasons, I would recommend our previous blog post on time management in the IBDP.

Exam stress can also be caused due to overstimulation. Having multiple examinations on the same day, or simply having to cover a lot of content can lead you to get distracted and overwhelmed by all the material to cover. This leads to stress due to overstimulation, which makes it extremely difficult to focus on the task at hand.

There are also certain psychological factors that come into play here. There may be an internalized irrational association of good grades with self worth. For example, some students think that getting a low grade on an exam will mean that they are worthless. Additionally, there can be a fear of how your friends or family will perceive you.

These are some of the reasons for exam stress, however, everyone’s case is different. You may experience a combination of these feelings, or something similar to one of these causes. Naming the cause of stress is the first step to combatting this stress.

Tips to coping with examination stress:

1. Believe in yourself
I know that this may sound cheesy, but as someone who has taken many exams in your life, you have already achieved so much. Try to get a better understanding of your capabilities through how well you’ve fared in the past, and believe in yourself. You can practice positive self talk by looking in a mirror and telling yourself things like “I can do this” and “I am ready to take this exam” and so on. Of course, there is room for improvement, but that is there for everyone. No one has 100% perfect knowledge in a subject, you are already well on track. If you identify gaps in your understanding or knowledge, you can benefit from tip 2.

2. Take action to overcome issues
If you have identified gaps in knowledge, discuss them with your peers, teachers or get a tutor for clarifications. Do not be afraid to ask for help, and you will find yourself feeling much more confident and less stressed once you take these steps.

3. Remember to breathe
Sometimes stress manifests itself as a shortness of breath and fast heartbeat. I would highly recommend breathing exercises and meditation for these feelings. Take 5-10 minutes off for yourself to close your eyes and take deep breaths. There are also plenty of free guided meditation and breathing exercises available on YouTube or as podcasts that are just a Google search away. These exercises truly help bring a person back down to a normal less stressed state of being and improve focus.

4. Plan and get accurate information
Take time to inform yourself of all the particulars of an exam, such as the format, time, location, type of questions, etc. Having this knowledge well ahead of the exam will allow you to plan your revision better. If your exam has mainly open questions, you can focus your revision on writing essays, whereas if it is a multiple choice exam, you can focus on learning specific information. Using your knowledge of the examination will allow for more effective preparation and help you destress.

5. Avoid overstimulation
Avoid drinking too much caffeine as it has a strong link to stress and anxiety. Moreover, try to focus on one task at a time. If you find yourself getting distracted or overwhelmed by other tasks during your study time, keep a piece of paper on the side to note down these thoughts as they come to mind so that you can look at them later and quite literally, get them off your mind. Avoid listening to music with words while studying, because it can be very distracting and your brain might not be able to focus on studying. If you do like to listen to music while studying, consider listening to instrumentals or white noise sounds.

I hope that with these few tips, you can take exam stress under your belt and proceed into the examination room with confidence and a calm, focused mind. Best of luck for your upcoming examinations!

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