Table of Contents

Reduce exam stress by studying smarter

Explore techniques to prepare yourself during academic session, before exams, during exams and ways to handle pre and post exam stress.

Girl stressed due to exams

Source: JESHOOTS.COM/Unsplash

Although a couple hours of exams can’t determine an individual’s overall talent, future and success but, every student, willing to have a professional degree in the desired field of interest, has to go through them as an inevitable part of an academic program.

 Exam stress often takes the form of distress for lot of students which keep the students bothered during their entire academic program and are liekely to hamper their memory, concentration, retention, recalling and performance not only during exams but also in other areas of life during the academic session.

It’s natural to get stressed during the exams but getting stressed to a point where you end up scoring lower grades or even failing an exam, might be a matter of concern. The article will focus on how to prepare yourself diligently so as to experience least possible stress during exams.

The preparations mentioned below if followed throughout the year will reap miraculous benefits for you. But in case you can’t and you wish to observe at least some noticeable benefits you ought to start following these guidelines at least 45 days before your terminal exams and 90 days before your board exams. However do note, there are no fixed rules for this.

But if you begin to follow below mentioned guidelines from day one of your academic session, you will be almost prepared and the only stress you’ll have to deal with is during the exams which is comparatively lot easier.

Before exams (say when the exams are 45 or 90 days to go)

1. Technical preparations

1.1 Have a copy of lecture plan of all the subjects with you

It will help you be aware of the completed, ongoing, and remaining topics at a glance. This helps in mental readiness and allows you to develop sufficient strategies to begin preparation.

1.2 Read the topic and content before it is taught in the classroom

This enables you to gain better understanding of the topic and facilitates in the encoding process. And when the lecture on the same topic is delivered to you, you’ll understand the lesson better as compared to when you did not study before the lectur. It will also help you keep your interest intact.

1.3 Be attentive in the class during lectures.

There is no substitute to inattentiveness in class. If you are not mentally present in the class, remember you’ll have to study the topic on your own and that’s going to take much more time to understand than the lecture duration in the class. And, if you need to study all of your time outside of your school or college, you are definitely piling up stress. Remember, you need good leisure time to stay psychologically calm and plan ahead.

1.4 Learn to ask questions wherever and whenever necessary. Do not hesitate.

Asking questions is the best way to boost up your confidence on particular topic. There are no good or bad questions. If you feel something needs to be explored more, ask your teacher straight away. If you learn to stimulate your cognitive process by asking questions, you learn better. It boosts your confidence as well.

When was the last time you asked questions with your teacher. Many students simply wait for the class to be over as soon as possible. The encoding and retention duration of information when you receive a reply by the teacher for your asked question is much higher when you are just a passive listener. It can improve your learning and motivation as well.

1.5 Use paper and pen to take notes in the class

Be active in the class. Take notes using paper and pen. Engage yourself. Although you can remember/recall well through listening, you’ll remember/recall even better when you take notes simultaneously. While you’re taking notes, you listen and actually see what you’re writing. In this way you are involving your sensory organs ear, eyes and also your motor organs.

You’re seeing what you’re writing and again encoding the information in your memory. That’s very quick and forms a stronger impression in your mind. But, typing notes on laptop leads to mindless learning. A study published by Association for Psychological Science suggests that writing strengthens learning process and those students who took notes on laptop had impaired recalling mechanism.

Another study published in Intech suggests that writing by hand creates movement that leave motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps to establish strong connection between reading, writing and recalling learned information in an innovative way.

1.6 Have separate notebooks for different subjects

An organized notebook is the key to organized mental and emotional state of mind during your study time or during the exams. This will decrease you stress level to a great extent. Also, place the missed lecture serially/topic wise in organized manner. If you learn to organize your notes in sequence of the syllabus, it will help you stay focused and speed up the revision process and also will help you to monitor your progress.

1.7 Revise the lectures just before you go to sleep every night

Doing this will facilitate encoding and retention because of the input of content into your sub-conscious state of mind. Anything learnt during this state of mind can create deeper impressions in the mind and brain improving retention and recall. You can read the study here if you do not have access to the full article at sagepub.

1.8 Study subject related other books, articles, videos, podcasts for comprehensive understanding about any topic

Do not just depend on your classroom notes. Expand your knowledge bank by studying on same topic by different authors’ perspective. This will help you extend your knowledge and develop better understanding on any topic. 

1.9 Participate willingly in classroom seminars

Doing so will enable you to have command over your topics and subjects during the semester as it involves preparation, way of presentation, communication and explanation. Learning is at its best when you explain or teach/deliver information on any topic to others.

1.10 Don’t just depend on guess papers or manuals

They might be helpful in predicting types of questions to be asked during exams, but depending solely on them will confine you to limited angle of how the questions could be asked or answered during exams.

1.11 Add value to your information by studying related researches, magazines, newspaper articles

This will keep you up to date on related latest scientific research articles and other aspects explored on the topic, valuable statistics and many more.

1.12 Create short notes for every topic

Design short notes of every topic from all your subjects before your exams (during academic session). You can create them on a separate notebook or on pieces of paper or on chart papers and stick them on the spaces around your study table.

Suppose content for a topic consists of 1000 words. In first phase make an effort to write a summary of it in just 200 words. After a week write the same 200 words into 1000 words without seeing your original notebook. Make sure you cover every areas of the required topic.

In the second phase try to summarize the same 500 or 1000 words into 50 or 100 words. Again after a week or two write the same 50 or 100 words into 1000 words without taking help of your original notebook.

Sounds crazy right!

“Trust me this will begin to activate your true potential as a writer.”

Writing down the previously encoded information enables an organized and impactful encoding/learning of the same information with deep processing.

  1. Encoding (phase-1) (Temporary)
  2. Recalling + writing-(active involvement of cognition and motor neurons)
  3. Encoding (phase-2) (durable)

It might not be possible for some students to cover entire topics of all the subjects this way, but if you made it you’ll be ahead in the league of exam warriors. You don’t have to mug up the topics.

1.13 Have as much group discussion as possible before exams

Group discussion is probably the best method of encoding information into your memory on any topic by conveying/teaching to fellow members/colleagues or juniors. The activated cognition along with a dedication, determination, mental alertness, communication and hearing back the taught lessons create a strong and deep impression/memory traces in your brain. The question answer sessions contribute in an extra ordinary way as it triggers you to activate and operate at optimum performance. It facilitates novel ways to recall, organize and present the information in much understandable way.

1.14 Solve previous year’s question paper if available

Try to solve them within the same time duration (say 2.5-3 hrs) or as provided to you during your exams. 

With this you will be able to develop a coordination between your mental recalling speed and mechanism and the motor responses from brain through your arms to muscle memory of the fingers of your hand. Why would you need to do that?

Normally students are able to recall the answers of the questions at a satisfying speed. But, when it comes to holding and processing the information and write it down on the exam sheet, the information you recalled could go useless which can make you stressed, anxious and disappointed.

Another major benefit of this process is to reduce possibility of verbatim and enhance ability to comprehend and encode the information in a way that would lead to richer memory.

1.15 Have a fixed study time and room/location

Having a fixed time for study and location will develop an ambience known as ideosphere which retains the information in the form of electromagnetic waves. This sounds a bit supernatural. But you should know that thoughts and spoken words remain in the ideopshere and are not destroyed as they are energy.

To understand this you can visit a hospital and feel it’s ambience. People there are worried, stressed, griefed and hence the ambience feels distressing. That’s the power of the thoughts and emotions of the people over there.

Next, visit nature such as hill side, mountain or other beautiful locations that’s rich in natural resources. You’ll feel calm and refreshed. That’s the power of ambience. Ideopshere create ambience.

This has a huge impact in complementing your concentration, memory, awareness, comprehensiveness, encoding and recalling process.

It will also keep you calm without any major distraction so that you can keep up the pace for 2-3 hours at a time with a break of 10-15 minutes every 45 minutes. The break should involve diversion of attention to any other form and not a cell phone or a computer.

Practice endurance because you will need it in every profession you choose in life.

1.16 Design a time table to study different subjects throughout the week

Design it in such a way that you cover entire subjects with different priority and difficulty level without missing any of them. Do not study one subject throughout the day. Switch among subjects after every one or two hours as it will improve better learning and retention which is explained by a popular technique called spacing and interleaving.

1.17 Train your brain-hand coordination. Exercise your hands and fingers

Exercising your finger too is important. When your fingers get tired while you’re recalling an information, it will hamper the recall process. Many students leave the examination hall early just because they can’t write, they’re tired even if they are able to recall valuable information regarding the questions asked to them. This is one of the reason for examination fatigue.

Below are few exercises that you can practice to keep your fingers and hand active when it comes to writing for prolonged hours like during the examination. 

  • Lock the fingers of both your hands
  • Turn it in opposite direction so that back side of the palm faces your front body
  • Stretch your elbows and arms back and forth to warm up your fingers
  • Use your opposite hand fingers to flex the individual fingers of the hand which you use for writing. Extend them one by one towards the palm and opposite of your palm.
  • Try to increase the gap between your fingers by stretching adjacent fingers in opposite direction.

This will make your fingers flexible, increase blood flow to them, speed up your motor neurons and information processing mechanism so that the command from your mind is smoothly imprinted on the exam sheet during exams.

2 Physiological, psychological and behavioral preparations during ongoing exams

2.1 While at your home

  1. Pay attention to nutrition in your food
  2. Practice pranayama and meditation for 5-10 mins daily
  3. Get engaged in any yogasanas or moderate to vigorous physical activities 3-4 times a week with minimum of 30 minutes per sesison and 45 mins at maximum.
  4. Have relaxing sleep of 7-8 hours during exams for better memory.
  5. Maintain your blood glucose level. Over or under level of blood glucose in the blood can interfere with concentration, learning, retention.
  6. Clear all the clutters in the room. Arrange your room in a way everything should be visually organized and appealing.
  7. Avoid studying on bed. Use study table and a ergonomic chair.
  8. Shower everyday if possible. That will keep you afresh and it has a lot of physical and psychological benefits.
  9. Sit for study when you are calm and relaxed. If you are stressed due to some reasons, calm yourself first. If you try to study while stressed, you’ll waste your time.
  10. Don’t study throughout night and sleep throughout the day. Do not oversleep or under sleep. It will affect your performance. Many students find themselves calm and concentrated during the night. But the best way is to sleep within 2-3 hours of sunset and wake up after a sound sleep of 7-9 hours. Although there are no fixed rules for this, if you do not develop any health complications while staying up late night, you might proceed with it. Day time sleep might harm your health. So decide wisely.
  11. Play or listen to your favorite music and dance or engage in your hobbies you’re passionate about in your leisure time. Engage whole heartedly. Disengagement from your daily study routine is much important for at least an hour every day.
  12. Practice some memory and concentration boosting techniques such as asanas, pranayama and meditation or solving puzzles, playing chess, solving rubik’s cube etc.
  13. Have fixed time to use mobile phones for social media or entertainment and avoid their use during study time at any cost. Your determination will make you better over time.

2.2 While inside the examination hall

  1. Don’t starve. Have breakfast or lunch ½ to 1 hour before exams
  2. Stay hydrated during exams. Drink water every half an hour
  3. Take a break of 2-3 mins every hour to breath in fresh air during exam
  4. Attempt the easier questions if you are not confident of solving them serially. Solve the difficult one’s after that.
  5. Never engage in cheating. It will ruin your self-esteem over time.

2.3 After every exams

  1. Do not sit down to discuss you question paper with you peers
  2. Accept what and how you performed during your exams and prepare mentally for upcoming exams
  3. Take your meal as soon as possible
  4. Rejuvenate yourself after the examination. Engage in your hobby or any such experience for at least an hour or two.
  5. Many student suffer from headache after exiting their examination hall. In that case take fresh air wherever possible and try to forget whatever happened in the exam premises.
  6. Don’t be anxious about marks or results. Give your best and leave the rest.

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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