Overcoming Exam Anxiety

Exam season can be a significant source of stress for university students. Fears often centre around performance, future prospects, and a feeling that the workload is overwhelming. However, no matter how isolated this makes you feel, it’s very important to understand that you’re not alone, and that many students will be feeling the exact same way.

Here are 10 useful tips and strategies that can help you to cope with your exam anxiety:

1. Understand Your Anxiety

The first and potentially most important step is to recognise your anxiety and stress. By acknowledging that your feelings are completely normal and will be shared by many of your fellow students, you might start to take the edge off. Anxiety and stress can manifest through both mental and physical symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sleep
  • Lack of appetite

There are other symptoms that may appear, as every person is different, and displays stress differently. Once you have identified these symptoms and worked out why they are appearing, you can take active measures to reduce their impact.

2. Stay Organised

Keeping your study materials organised can be very helpful if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Planning your revision timetable in advance of your exams can be useful. One way of doing this is to break down your revision plans into manageable sections and set clear, achievable goals for each study session. This strategy can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and enhances your confidence as you tick off completed sections.

3. Active Learning

Engaging with your study material actively can help the information to get into your head better. Summarising information in your own words, creating mind maps, flashcards, using different coloured pens and teaching concepts to others can help to consolidate knowledge. Studies show that active learning can not only improve memory retention, but also reduces anxiety as it provides a sense of control over the content you are learning.

4. Practice Under Exam Conditions

Familiarising yourself with the format of the exam and practising under timed conditions can allow you to gauge your ability to manage the time effectively during your actual exam. This can reduce any surprise element and stress associated with this.

5. Healthy Lifestyle

You should never underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle in managing stress, particularly around exam season. It might be easier said than done, but regular physical exercise can boost your mood and energy levels, and might even act as a natural anxiety reliever. Eating a balanced diet will keep you well energised, and avoiding excessive caffeine consumption can prevent nervousness and restlessness. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep, as fatigue can exacerbate stress and impair cognitive function.

6. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness can be an excellent way to manage your stress and anxiety. It can look different to everybody, but mainly involves focusing on the present moment and accepting it. Techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, all of which can help you remain calm and relaxed. You can explore mindfulness and other relaxation techniques via numerous free online resources, or through wellbeing services offered by most universities in the UK.

7. Reach Out for Support

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the people around you for any support you need. Sharing your worries with friends, family or university staff can provide a new perspective and make your challenges feel less daunting. Many universities also offer counselling services and mental health support, and some universities even have dedicated exam stress workshops.

8. Take Regular Breaks

Research suggests that taking breaks regularly during your revision sessions can improve your focus and productivity. A very common study method is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves blocks of 25 minutes of study sessions, separated by by 5 minute breaks, with a longer break after four ‘Pomodoros’.

9. Self-compassion

It is extremely important that you remember that your exam performance does not define your worth. You need to maintain perspective and keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, and has their own strengths and weaknesses. Treat yourself kindly if things don’t go to plan, just as you would treat a friend.

10. Post-Exam Reflection

After you have completed an exam, take the time to reflect on what went well and the areas that you could improve in. This can not only feel cathartic, but can also set a positive precedent for future exams, and give you some goals for revision sessions. However, you should avoid obsessing what you could have done differently – once the exam is over, it’s out of your hands.

Dealing with exam stress at university involves a mix of practical study strategies, and proactive wellbeing practices. By taking the time to implement these tips and strategies, students can hopefully navigate the exam season with confidence. Always remember that exams are only one aspect of your university experience and, most importantly, your broader life journey.

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