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College Survival Guide: Get Rid of Exam Stress Once and For All
Among the top five of the most stressful recurring dreams involve a person who is failing in school. They may be missing classes or they have a guilt-ridden sense they will not be allowed to graduate. Pioneering psychologist Alfred Adler was among the first to document this nearly universal school anxiety dream more than 100 years ago.
Does it sound familiar? Many theories have been offered to explain this phenomenon. However, one thing we can conclude is that taking exams is one of the primary agents for injecting the school experience with regular doses of anxiety. Oxford Learning says students who experience frequent exam stress consistently average a half-letter grade lower than their peers.
It’s clear a strategy is needed to cope with exam stress. Fortunately, good action plans exist to mitigate this common problem.
How to Reduce Exam Stress
Getting rid of exam anxiety is a three-part strategy that leverages the time before the exam, what happens during the exam and what happens after the exam.
Before the Exam: Prep
Five steps are suggested for reducing exam anxiety in the runup to the “big event.” The first is:
1. Create a Conducive Study Environment
You need a place to study where you will not be distracted or disturbed. That takes planning. Find a place that is pleasant, has natural light and where friends or others won’t disturb you. Also, turn off all your devices – and no TV in the background!
2. Time Management
This involves prescheduling specific times every day that is dedicated to studying. Slot out these times and prioritize them as “must-do” activities every day. Having these times “captured” helps reduce anxiety because you will not be constantly fretting about “finding time to study.”
3. Use Formal Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, work. Other examples are yoga stretching or some form of formal or informal meditation. Doing them every day in the week leading up to the exam reduces daily stress build-up.
4. Never Rely on Cramming
This is among the biggest drivers of exam anxiety. It takes discipline to study when a test is three weeks away. However, using each day to study will reduce exam day anxiety enormously.
5. Exam Day
Get good sleep the night and then start exam day with a healthy breakfast. Take care of yourself throughout the day. Plan a nice nature walk or take an oxygenating bike ride or run. Exercise will help you sit for an exam in a more relaxed physical state.
During the Exam
As you start, remind yourself you have done all you can to prepare for this moment. Mentally release any regrets or “I should haves.” You’re here now, and you can only strive to do your best.
Breathe & Visualize
Pay attention to your breathing! Zen and other meditation traditions have known for centuries that the “mind follows the breath.” If you take deep breaths from the lower stomach – rather than short choppy breaths from the upper chest — your mind will follow the breathing to calmness.
Consider visualizing an “aura of calmness” surrounding your body. See yourself as enveloped in a golden “egg” of white or golden light. This is your personal “resonate energy space” of command, calm and control.
If the test allows, go ahead and answer all the questions you know first. Work on those that you feel less confident about last.
After the Exam
Think of how it is important in golf to develop a good “after swing” and/or “follow-through.” You can leverage the same concept psychologically to reduce exam anxiety.
Mentally attune yourself to visualizing that after-exam moment as a pleasant time of satisfaction about putting hard work behind you. This will help your subconscious mind deliver that scenario to you in reality.
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