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Managing Exam Stress

Now that summer finally seems to be getting underway, the last thing you want to think about are exams. Everyone hates exams, right? They’re so traumatic that even years later, people still have dreams that they missed or failed their exams. No matter how much you prepare and study for the test, you don’t really know how the stress is going to hit you until you sit down in that exam hall — and when the stress wipes out all the knowledge that you’ve spent weeks painstakingly accumulating, there isn’t much you can do about it other than pray it doesn’t bring down your GPA too much.

Exam stress is such a widespread problem that a 2015 survey showed that more than 60% of college students worried that exam stress would cause their grades to slip. Exam stress is often compounded by all the other stresses that college students face — being away from their families, trying to keep up their social lives, extra-curricular clubs and activities, and for older students, trying to land that perfect first job. Exam stress is such a common phenomenon, that one of the main characters on the popular legal drama Suits couldn’t qualify to become a lawyer because of her severe test anxiety that prevented her from completing her LSAT. Exam stress is particularly insidious because it can undo weeks or even months of hard work. It’s not that you don’t know what the answer is — often, it’ll come to you the second you get out of the exam hall, and it makes you feel even worse because you knew what the answer was, but that invisible block prevented you from writing it down. So if you feel frustrated, don’t worry, you are not alone. There are many ways you can try to reduce that dreaded exam stress in order to be able to do your best and get the grade you were aiming for.

Study. Yes, sometimes the simplest methods work the best. From personal experience, I can tell you that sometimes exam stress is caused by fear that you don’t know anything, which in turn is caused by a lack of preparation. Study up and make sure that you know your stuff, and you won’t be phased on the exam day. Plan out a systematic revision schedule well in advance so that you’ll know that you’ve done the best you can. Don’t cram at the last minute. Let’s be real, you’re not going to remember anything you read fifteen minutes before the exam, and all it will do is make you worried that you missed out on something. By the time you wake up on the morning of the test, you already know everything you’re ever going to know. Just use that knowledge and do your best.

Sleep. Get a good night’s sleep on the eve of your exam and don’t stay up all night reading your notes. A lack of sleep will actually make you feel more stressed than if you manage to get your full eight hours’ worth. If you’re well rested and wide awake, your brain will be functioning much better than if you’re running on a cocktail of coffee and Red Bull, feeling like a zombie.

Relax. This one is definitely easier said and done. But when you feel like the pressure is becoming unbearable, it’s important to have something that you can do to calm yourself down. This is different for everyone. Personally, I like to forget about my books for a while and distract myself with an episode (or five!) of my favorite TV show. Maybe you like to light a few scented candles or pick up some real CBD oil for sale to soothe those frayed nerves. Or maybe you like to play a video game or read a book to escape to a different world. Whatever your favorite strategy is, don’t be afraid to use it — but don’t forget to go back to your books at some point!

Exercise. Any exercise will do. Even a short walk in a nearby park is better than being cooped up in your room. A change of scenery and a breath of fresh air will do wonders for your focus, memory, and concentration. It’ll also calm you down and put you in a better mood.

At the end of the day, remember that it’s just a test. Life will go on no matter how well or badly you do. And even if you do worse that you thought you would, that’s okay. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up. In the long run, an exam will be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So when you reach the exam room, don’t be afraid — just sit down, take a deep breath, and start writing.

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