Exams are a crucial part of education and the source of stress for many students. In order to avoid crippling anxiety from these pesky evaluations, it is important to approach them with a clear mind and an understanding of how to deal with stressful situations more broadly.
In many cases, exam stress is all in the mind, and mental discipline is a large part of what is needed to succeed. Psychological experts recommend a proper strategy to deal with exam stress. In this section of the article, we will deal with the strategy of how to prepare for a test.
Know what is expected of you
Be sure to consult your syllabus or ask your instructor what material you will be responsible for. If you have a concrete sense of what you will be tested on, the future test will feel less vague and more like something you can handle.If you aren't clear on anything, ask your teacher.
Teachers would much rather answer questions than have their students proceed without understanding what's expected.
Make sure you have read your syllabus and any information your teacher has given you before asking the question.
Study in conditions similar to your test room
There is a phenomenon in psychology called context-dependent memory. It refers to the idea that we are best able to remember things in environments similar to when the information was encoded.
A related phenomenon is called state-dependent memory, which means that our memory is better when we learn and retrieve information in similar bodily states. If you will be in a quiet room during your exam, try to simulate those conditions while you prepare.
This is using context-dependent memory to your advantage. As an example of state-dependent memory, if you prepare for your exam using caffeine, your memory on test day may be better if you have a similar amount of caffeine then, too.
Use this knowledge and know that you are taking evidence-backed steps to maximize your exam score. Keep that in mind if you are feeling stressed about your upcoming exam.
Take notes in class
Do not just rely on your memory or your course book. Take your class time seriously by taking notes summarizing what your teacher has said. If you are feeling exam stress, you can review your notes; this will help you remember things that happened in class that you didn’t even take notes on, further giving you a sense of mastery over your material.
When taking notes, focus on jotting down keywords and key ideas, rather than trying to take dictation. Copying out the exact sentences is not as important as getting down the main ideas.
Review your notes weekly. This will help you learn the material and transfer it to long-term memory. When it comes time for the exam, you'll feel much better prepared.
Manage your time wisely
Do not just cram for an exam last minute; this will surely lead to exam stress. Break up your study time into chunks over days, or weeks even. When you "chunk" your study time over the course of a longer period of time, such as a few days or weeks, you will retain more of the information.
If possible, because of state-dependent memory, try to study at around the same time of day as you will be taking the test. This way you will be similarly tired/awake when you study and when you take your test. You will be used to how you feel when dealing with your course material on test day.
Know where you study best
Think about the kinds of factors that allow you to be most comfortable and relaxed as you prepare for your exam. When setting up a dedicated study space: Track the level of light in the room. Some people study better with light, others study better in dimmer light. Examine your work space.
Decide whether you work better with a bit of clutter or if a clean, fresh work space is what you prefer. Pay attention to background noise. Does music help you concentrate or do you need a quiet environment in which to study? Find an alternate place to study such as a library or coffee shop.
A change of scenery can give you a fresh look at the material and also provide additional resources.
Take frequent breaks
According to psychology studies, the average human brain can only focus on one task effectively for about 45 minutes.
In addition, research in neuroscience suggests that focusing on the same thing for too long diminishes the brain's ability to accurately process it.
Be sure to drink plenty of water. Aim for at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Not drinking enough water can make you feel sluggish and stressed. Caffeine can make you feel anxious, which can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Have a cup of coffee or a cola if you like, but don't go overboard.
Experts recommend getting no more than 400mg of caffeine per day for adults. Kids and teens should limit themselves to about 100mg per day (one cup of coffee or 3 colas). A cup of herbal tea can help you feel more relaxed and stay hydrated. Peppermint, chamomile, and passionflower are good choices.
Reward your achievements
If you are feeling stressed about an exam, be sure to reward yourself for your study time. This will motivate you to continue studying and may even reduce stress.
For example, after studying hard for an hour, take a break and play on the internet for 20 minutes or watch an episode of a TV show that you enjoy. This will help you get your mind off the exam while acting as a motivational carrot that may help you pick up studying again after your break.
Regular aerobic exercise can relieve stress, so if you find yourself a nervous wreck before an exam, go for a run or hit the gym. When you work out, listen to upbeat music that keeps you motivated throughout your workout. Do meditate after your upbeat exercise. This lets the mind focus and calm down.
Eat healthy foods
When you eat unhealthy foods it can make you feel negative, which can interfere with your exam preparation. Therefore, it is important to eat right if you want to have the best odds of doing well on your exam and not stressing about it. Try eating lean meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Avoid too much sugar or heavily processed food. Part of eating healthy involves having a balanced diet. Try not to eat too much of only one food source. You can usually get variety in your diet by changing up the type of cuisine you eat every couple of nights.
Get enough sleep
Not getting a full night’s rest can contribute to feelings of fatigue, stress, and anxiety. If you have trouble sleeping, try making your bedroom pitch black. Block out sounds by changing your environment and/or wearing earplugs.
Get into a routine and follow it every night. Take note of how many hours a night of sleep you need in order to feel refreshed in the morning; get that many hours of sleep every night. For example, if you tend to be in bed by 10:30 PM then read for 30 minutes before falling asleep, stick to that schedule as often as possible. In this way you will train your body for sleep.