Exam season anxiety is a well-known and common challenge for college and university students, whether you’re finishing your first semester or only a couple weeks away from finishing off your degree. While some level of stress can be helpful towards completing all your work, after a certain point it can become too much. Maybe you put off some of the readings (or all of the readings!), maybe it’s a subject you’re not confident with, maybe work or social life makes it hard to find time to sit down with your notes. These things, and many others, can cause distress which gets in the way of finishing your studying. In this blog post, we’ll be talking about how to deal with this anxiety, so you can go into your exams feeling confident, prepared, and worry free.
There are a lot of ways you can reduce anxiety going into exam season. For example, one important way to reduce anxiety for studying is to have kept up with your reading throughout the year, so you enter exam season prepared. While there is plenty to discuss about preparing for exam season, today we’ll be focusing on what you can do during exam season itself to relieve your anxiety. So: how do you catch up on your reading with the exam dates getting near? How do you work through the anxiety to review everything that will be on your exams? What subjects do you focus on with your limited time? Here are some tips and tricks:
- Make time for studying! This is often the hardest part, as life offers a bounty of things that seem like a better way to spend your time than to study for your exam. But you can play the latest video game after you’ve aced your tests, your buddies will still want to go to the club after you’ve finished with classes, and social media will always be there once you’ve finished dealing with more time sensitive things. Create a schedule, and set aside specific blocks of time in your day to study.
- Prioritize your studying! Not all classes were created equal. Take a look at your exam schedule: take note of which exams are soonest, which are worth the most for their classes’ final grade, which classes you most need to excel in the exam for. No matter how many plans you cancel, you only have a limited amount of time to study, so make sure you’re studying for the exams where you’ll need it most.
- Vary your studying! It’s no good to just read through your notes or a textbook over and over. Study with a friend so you can test each other, make flash cards, and utilize websites like makeanexam.com to test and sharpen your knowledge of the subject. These are more effective ways to study, and require more active engagement - thus decreasing the opportunities for anxiety to sideline you.
Taking these steps can go a long way towards decreasing your anxiety, or at least reducing the effect your anxiety has on your studying. But sometimes that’s not enough. One aspect of anxiety that can make it so hard to deal with is the way it interacts with itself: mental anxiety caused by studying can result in physical anxiety, such as shortness of breath and tightening muscles, which results in heightened mental anxiety. Luckily, there are many ways to deal with both physical and mental anxiety, and dealing with one can often lessen the other as well:
- Take breaks. Many people find that strategies to relax their muscles can help immensely when dealing with the physical effects of anxiety. This can be as easy as taking occasional breaks to stand up, walk around, and stretch your muscles. You can also use these breaks to do little bits of exercise, such as jumping jacks or running in place. Exercise helps you burn some of the excess energy that your body is putting into producing feelings of anxiety, and will help you relax. There are also numerous techniques developed specifically to help you relax your muscles and yourself, and there are many guides for this available online. While it’s up to you to find the one that works best for you, Deakin University’s website has one such guide and is a good place to start. There are also a variety of breathing exercises designed to help you relax and to deal with anxiety. A guide to a popular and effective breathing exercise called box breathing can be found at Healthline’s website. Try to set aside a couple minutes at regular intervals for these breaks; only sitting down for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time, and moving around often, will make it more difficult for anxiety to build up and will help disperse anxiety when it does arise.
- Don’t drink too much coffee. Though it might sound difficult to those of you who do most of your studying late in the night, it can be important to not indulge too heavily in caffeine. Caffeine often heightens the mental effects of anxiety, and can tighten your muscles even if you’re otherwise relaxed. Making time and setting a schedule for your studying can help with this: the more work you can put into learning the material while already alert, the less caffeine you’ll have to use to keep yourself awake and aware while pouring over your notes.
- Make sure you’ve eaten enough. Hunger leads directly to distraction and anxiety. Try to have a light meal before you sit down to study, or have a healthy snack beside you as you work. Fruit and nuts can provide the energy you need to continue studying, while helping to keep anxiety away.
- Stay hydrated! A lot of anxiety can be traced back to physical causes. If you’ve organized your time well, and are sitting down to study on a full night’s sleep, having exercised and eaten, with a water bottle beside you, then you’ve already gone a long way towards ensuring you’ll have a stress free time while studying.
Finally, if you follow all these tips and still find yourself struggling with anxiety, or if your anxiety is getting in the way of your life outside of stressful periods like exam season, it can be important to talk to a counselor about these problems. Post-secondary institutions generally provide counseling and other support services for their students, and we implore you to make use of them if you’re struggling. Mental and emotional health and well being are just as important to a happy and fulfilling life as your physical health, and it is important that you prioritize yourself when you need help.