Exam Stress and Fear
When you’re under stress, it’s hard to concentrate. You’re likely to get distracted by worrying thoughts which pop into your head and distract you – thoughts like “I’ll never learn all this”, and “Won’t it be awful if I fail?” All of which can be terribly distracting. One of the best ways of dealing with these thoughts is by keeping yourself so busy that they don’t have time to arrive. And that means revising in a sensible and intelligent way.
If you have ever tried yoga or meditation, you’ll know that it’s possible to confine your awareness to a much more narrow focus then you normally use. Use the same exercises to screen out awareness of everything but the problem that you are working on. Although it can sometimes be tiring, really deep concentration, with all of the distractions screened out, can also be tremendously refreshing.
The absolutely worst way of revising is the “staring -at- your- notes- and- trying -to-burn-them-into-your-brain” method – for lots of reasons, but in this context because it leaves your mind far too free for those distracting thoughts to pop up. It’s much better to revise actively – summarising your notes, converting the information into flow-charts and diagrams, engaging in revision quizzes with your friends, and so on. By doing that, your mind will be too busy for these thoughts to come up. There are good mental reasons for doing this too – it helps you to learn better – but they’re for the Revision Page.
It’s hard to concentrate fully on something that you find boring. But nothing really needs to be boring – not if you explore all of its implications. Try discussing the topic with other people – friends, parents, teachers – to find out why it matters. If you listen to what they say with an open mind, you’ll probably get some unusual insights, which will help you to focus on your revision with more interest. Of course, it does need an open mind – if you’ve already decided that the topic is simply dull, then nobody will be able to change your mind for you.
The most effective tools in waging your battle against short-term or exam stress are knowing and accepting your limits, and trying to keep everything in the proper perspective – your life will not be worthless if you don’t get every question right on the exam.
When you are studying or writing a paper, donï¿½t be afraid to take a break. Go see a movie at Images or the local cinema, listen to your favorite music, go for a walk, call up an old friend, make a trip to the snack bar, write a letter venting all your frustrations and then rip it up, let out a primal scream, or talk to a trained professional. Take a break and give your brain a rest. Even if the break is only five minutes of daydreaming, do it. Studying with no breaks for long periods of time is not as productive as studying with small breaks every hour or two.
Leave plenty of time to revise so that you don’t get into a situation of having to do last minute cramming. This approach will help to boost your confidence and reduce any pre-exam stress as you know you have prepared well.
Develop a timetable so that you can track and monitor your progress. Make sure you allow time for fun and relaxation so that you avoid burning out.
As soon as you notice your mind is losing concentration, take a short break. You will then come back to your revision refreshed.
Experiment with several alternative revision techniques so that revision is more fun and your motivation to study is high.
There hasn’t been anything like enough research done on the question, but there has been some suggestion that highly synthetic chemicals – can contribute to stress and depression. It’s probably better to avoid those too when you’re under particularly high pressure – stick to “natural” foods as much as you can.