Studying at the college level is not easy, bringing with it an exponential spike in stress levels. Combine this with nerves and you hit the mark on what almost all college students feel during exams. At times, you might even find yourself blacking-out, or drawing a blank slate, when you get to the exam. It’s such a shame when you feel like you’ve undone hours, nay days, of studying. Some people try and avoid feeling of extreme stress by simply running away, or distracting themselves. That is, procrastinating. When the time finally comes to take the exam, you end up feeling discouraged and beaten down. In other words, too much stress will hold you down by negatively impacting your memory and concentration.
On the other hand, however, you can use a little bit of stress to motivate and drive you. It is after all possible to be better at stress! It is possible to stay calm during exam time, albeit doing so is not easy. You will have to put in the work but the rewards are worth it. It is okay to feel nervous, anxious and stressed. However, channeling those negative emotions into something productive is essential.
If you are one of those nervous test takers, or you’re a student looking for ways to manage your time, read on for some tips and suggestions to help you stay calm during exams. This also includes tips for staying calm while you are taking the exam itself.
Some Tips on How to Stay Calm
Recent studies show that an imbalanced diet is linked to anxiety and stress. You must remember to eat all your vegetables and get all the nutrients you require. It is not advisable to overeat due to stress. You want to be physically comfortable and stay alert and focused for your exam. A good diet can and will help you achieve this. Here is a list of foods you should incorporate into your diet:
Have a well-balanced diet
Drink enough water
Magnesium rich foods such as- Spinach, Swiss Chard
Zinc-bearing foods- Oysters, Cashews, Liver, Beef, Egg yolks
Foods with Probiotics- Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kefir
Vitamin B- Avocado, Almonds
Eat foods rich in antioxidants
Beans: red, pinto, red kidney
Fruits: apples, prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
Berries: blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
Nuts: walnuts, pecans
Spices: turmeric and ginger
Vegetables: artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
I know this must sound repetitive but sleep is crucial for memory and long- term retention. Don’t kick yourself in the leg by burning the midnight oil right before an exam. It’s important that you feel rested on the day of the exam. Even 4 or 5 hours may be enough, but I would recommend getting at least 7.5 hours.
Put the exam in perspective:
It is only an exam! Try to see it more as opportunity to achieve something than as a chore you have to slug through.
The day before an exam is for revision only
In order to stay calm, you must begin revising as early as possible. You really don’t want to find yourself cramming the night before, at least not if you want to stay calm.
Practice your diaphragmatic breathing:
This is deep breathing, focusing on where the air comes from in your belly rather than chest. Diaphragmatic breathing interrupts the body’s fight or flight mode, increases oxygen, and decreases the amount of stress hormones that are released. Do this before you actually sit down in the exam room so that you’re not worried about whether your technique is right.
The kind of breath that helps you stay calm goes really deep. So, place your hands on your belly and inhale. As you do this, feel your belly gently push out. Don’t apply any force, just let the movement flow easily. Inhale and let your belly expand, exhale and let the air out. Do this three times and you will find your stress levels have lessened.
Please do not assume that your stress will be wiped out, your mind still plays a role in your stress level. But it will go a long way in helping you stay calm. Train yourself to keep your breath deep and steady throughout the test. You could write the word “Breathe” as a reminder on the top of the exam booklet or answer sheet. This is a powerful study technique as well.
Do a practice problem to warm up around 30 minutes before an exam:
Preferably the problem should be one you’re comfortable with and not something that will increase your anxiety right before the exam. Walk through the steps of a concept that gives you confidence. This will warm your brain up for the exam, easing you into the whole process. Your brain, like a muscle, needs this warm up.
I came across this tip when I was looking for ways to calm my pre-test anxiety. Changing your perspective on the exam can have a powerfully positive impact.
Prioritize your questions:
If you see a question that looks overwhelming and complicated, see if you can break it down. Ask yourself, “is this one big question or is it five tiny ones?” After you break it down, focus on which part seems the least scary and work your way through the different segments.
Check your work backwards:
If you have time left on the clock, go through your answers back-to-front. This ensures that your brain is paying attention as opposed to just rushing through something that feels familiar.
Ground yourself during the exam:
This involves feeling the chair and the floor supporting you, basically being completely present. Recall, the breathing method is also about being present. It is very easy to get lost in your head while studying for and taking an exam. Sometimes, you can completely lose touch with who you are. Grounding also helps you relax any tension in your body.
Using your senses to stay calm:
This entails breathing, staying grounded, and using your sense of touch. Feel the pencil in your hand, the clothing on your body, or the weight of your arm on the table.
Make sure you know what the question is asking you:
Fairly straightforward point to remember. Apparently, experts spend 90% of their time on the question and only 10% on the solution.
(If you can) avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine before an exam
Work hard and study well:
Below are a few study tips you can use before an exam to avoid panic when the time comes. Here is another link to some helpful tips on studying efficiently and effectively.
Use the power of positive thinking:
Repeat self-assuring phrases to yourself as much as you can to really keep your mind positive. One example of a sort of mantra is the following-
‘I will be okay, whatever happens because I have worked hard. And now I can only do my best and accept the result”
Do things to practice being calm:
Here are a few suggestions I found could be helpful- Glitter jar, Work through some mazes, Roll feet over a golf ball, colour mandalas, crunches, look outside, look through a kaleidoscope, spins, jumps. Personally, I liked doing squats instead of crunches, even if I wasn’t able to do too many. The point is that you can find any small activity to help you stay calm and soon your brain will associate said activity with being calm. These also serve as a nice way to spend your break time while studying.
Important Study Tips to Remember
If you manage to study hard and study smart, you’ll find your nerves to be much calmer when exams catch up with you. The good thing is that there are definitive steps that you can take to help yourself. Just remember to believe in your abilities and take it one step at a time.
1.Start Revision EARLY/ Spaced Repetition
2. Review Notes Every Day After Class (Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve)
3. Depth of Processing: To Remember Information Better, Change It Up. Make a Rhyme, Pattern, Colored Diagram, Illustration, or Maybe Even a Video
4. Add to Class Notes Every Day, Preferably Right After Class
5. Understand the Subject Matter, Don’t Just Memorize it
6. Say It in Your Own Words
7. SQRRR: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review
8. Make a Study Guide That Suits You Best
9. Use Varied Study Material
10. Ask Questions
11. Attend Review Sessions
12. Schedule Your Study Sessions, No More/No Less Studying Than Your Allotted Time
13. Take 5 Minute Reward Breaks Every 30 Minutes, Very Important
14. Make a Priority List
15. Study Like a Lecturer/Teacher
16. Use the Loci Method
17. Find a Productive Study Spot for You, Stick With it
18. Use Flashcards
19. Test Yourself
20. Teach Someone
21. Cut Distractions/Remove Resistance
22. Get Together with a Study Group
23. Remind Yourself of Why What You’re Studying is Important to You, Intrinsically
24. Build Effective Study Habits, Start Small and Move Up
25. Work Hard and Smart
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