Advice For Dealing With Exam Stress

07 May 2024

Palms and other greenery against blue sky at Fox Rosehill Gardens
Fox Gardens Palms
Type: Text
Category: Studying

This article was written by Creative Writing BA(Hons) student Lottie.

There’s nothing that feels less rewarding than an exam. When I look ahead and see weeks of nothing but studying/prepping/project-researching/portfolio-creating until a deadline, my natural motivation plummets to zero. Learning to navigate these large stretches of mentally taxing, self-motivated work takes time and practice! But, here are some of the methods I’ve found help me most, to manage my mental energy and productivity.

In my case, an open schedule is a dangerous thing. My brain tells me the only logical way to make use of free time is non-stop study, which is a very daunting prospect. I have a difficult time even getting started when I’ve had no other stimulation and nothing to look forward to - so we meet the daily planner!

I find organising my work periods and breaks ahead of time gives me a foothold to begin. I like to pre-schedule meal times, stretch breaks and hang-out sessions with friends! Sometimes even phone calls with my Mom make it into my daily planner. Too little structure in my day makes my work feel aimless. With added structure, it’s easier to set myself smaller goals. For example, If I know I get to make myself a yummy lunch at 1pm, it's easier to set a goal of what I can get done in that time!

How I define the work I’m doing reflects how accomplished and proud I feel as I make progress. That could be the difference between telling myself I’m going to “reconstruct my thesis statement, find 3 new sources” instead of simply “work on my essay for a while.” Never underestimate the power have having small items to cross off a list!

I’ve found that it’s never helpful for me to do work in the same place I take personal time to relax. This used to mean I wouldn’t do work in bed, but now it applies to my full bedroom. When I’m in my bedroom, I’m in the space that I most associate with relaxing self-care or sleep time and it doesn’t inspire me to work. Finding a different space that I train myself to specifically associate with work has worked wonders - it can be as far away as down the hall or across town. It can take several tries to find a workspace that best suits you, but don’t stop looking!

Sometimes white noise is helpful - sitting in a café or public study space can provide a nice ambiance. I like to listen to music while I work - that extra bit of stimulation keeps me from actively seeking out new distractions. My personal go-to playlist is comprised of movie and TV show scores, alongside some video game soundtracks. It’s music that’s designed to keep you engaged with whatever media you’re consuming, a property you can make work for you! 

Sometimes all these pieces click perfectly, but other times, despite sitting in my specific workplace, having followed my timetable and armed with my study playlist, I still find mental blocks preventing me from starting. My go-to list of tricks for this situation are:

  • Try switching mediums! If I was writing or drawing on a device, I switch to pencil and paper. It gives me a whole new rhythm and set of physical movements to perform, which can help kick my brain in gear.
  • Reading the work/information I’m trying to study out loud. Sometimes literally getting my thinking out of my head can give it new perspective and favor. I’ll say sentences out loud to myself before writing them down or I'll read notes back to myself to keep them fresh.
  • Employ sugar power! I find that having something sweet/salty on-hand to snack on keeps me from fidgeting and gives me something to do when I have moments where I simply need to sit back and think. Those are the moments where I’m most likely to lose focus unless I have some stimulus to reach for, to keep my mind busy.
  • That same sentiment applies to finding some sort of fidget toy to keep on hand!
  • Putting my phone away, in a bag, out of sight.

If all else fails? Give yourself a nice long break! Don’t normalize forcing yourself to produce under copious amounts of stress - instead, train yourself to capitalise the time when inspiration/motivation finds you. And be kind to yourself - these are the few weeks to treat yourself to your comfort meals and sleep in that extra hour! That kindness is how you best set yourself up for success.

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