Beating Exam Stress: 6 Essential Tips

Beating Exam Stress: 6 Essential Tips
Franki Hobson


Oct 12, 2014

Year 12 Exams are, not surprisingly, stressful. But here’s a sigh of relief – schedule in these study tips and your memory will be all the more clearer, your confidence increased and most importantly, your stress under control…

#1 Take Regular Breaks & You’ll Remember MORE Information

It might seem smart to study for hours on end, but it could be totes counter-productive. In fact, taking regular breaks can actually help you retain the info you’ve just reviewed more easily. Really. “A normal study session is usually for two to three hours,” explains Joanne Orlando, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Western Sydney. “You should take a five minute break every 25 minutes, or at least 10 minutes every hour.

A ‘break’ means no brain input and should be a change of space from the physical environment that you were in, and from what you were doing. For example, you could go outside for some sunshine or just have a chat to someone. Moving around is important too, as it gives your mind a rest. This break actually helps you absorb and understand the information you’ve been reviewing more easily – which is better for your exams.”

#2 Exercise to Feel Happy & Confident in your Abilities

No brainer: daily exercise is important.We’ve all heard the study-work-life balance philosophy, but here’s one more reason to slot it into your exam schedule. Exercise can actually help improve your exam performance. “Stress can lead to negative thoughts, which can impact your approach to study and your confidence,” explains Joanne. “When we exercise, endorphins and serotonin are released, which promotes positive thinking. Hitting the gym or going for a swim gives you time away from the books and can work wonders to help you absorb and understand the info you’ve been studying.”

#3 Take Control of Stress & You’ll Stay Focused

Stress and anxiety can rear their heads in many formsPhysical symptoms could be anything, fromheadaches to stomach upsets, breakouts, teeth grinding, body aches, sleeplessness and more. Emotionally, you could feel confused, overwhelmed, irritable, lack confidence, withdraw socially, or spiral into negative self-talk. None of which help with optimal performance. The key is to recognise the signs and manage them.

“Students are under a lot of pressure,” explains Joanne. “The idea that the future rests on these results can be hard, but it’s so important to not let the stress and pressure get to you. I’ve interviewed many students about exam stress and the one tip that comes up repeatedly from them is to think rationally. Sometimes stress is caused by unrealistic expectations placed on themselves or from others, whether adults or peers. Or it may be the stress of leaving high school and going to uni. Understand the cause, put it into perspective, and be as prepared as you can. Remind yourself of your past achievements, which will encourage positive thinking. Make good, realistic plans for the future that you can look forward to, whether that’s going to uni, going on a holiday post exams, something to look forward. It will help you stay focused, put things into perspective and remind you of the reason you’re studying so hard.

#4 Switch Off Your Social Networking Sites for Less Disruption

Checking out the latest on your newsfeed, tweet deck and insta-pics can be a major distraction. And while any logical person will tell you to just ‘switch your phone off’, this is easier said than done. For those lacking in social media control, the solution may be a clever App to do this for you. “There are Apps available to block access to social media and networking sites, disabling access and notifications for a scheduled period of time,” explains Joanne. “This allows you focus on study and take control.” For Mac, try the Self Control App and for P.C, try the Freedom App.

# 5 Get Sleep for Better Wake-Time Performance  

Next time you’re mum tries to drag you out of bed, remind her of this scientific fact. “Teenagers require 9 hours of sleep per night,” advises Joanne. The reason? “It’s an intense time for physical growth, development and memory.” But if you’ve been doing all-nighters, here’s the bad news. “Exam time requires you to think clearly and with a lot of detail, so if you have too little sleep, this affects your ability to remember the details required. It also puts stress on you because you wake up tired, you feel negative and start to question your ability, on top of the already stressful situation of exams.”

But switching off when you’ve got four exams to study for is easier said than done. Here’s the plan: “Before the HSC period starts, do a two to three week plan,” suggests Joanne. “Categorise what needs to be done daily and with urgency, and what can wait. It needs to be a realistic plan, otherwise you’ll never be able to achieve your goals. Revise your plan daily. It’s only when we’re satisfied that we’ve done what’s required for the day that we can comfortably go to sleep.”

#6 And Next Time, Study Regularly!

It’s a bit late for giving long-term strategies when you’re deep into exams, so for next time, heed this advice and say adios to stressful cramming.”Study regularly through the year,” advises Joanne. “You need time out, but if you do study for two or three hours per session for most days and regularly review your work, you’ll be better prepared and much less stressed. You need to remember that even if you are academically minded, you’ll be up against other students who are also academically minded and have studied throughout the year. Your chances of doing well depend on long term commitment and review of the subject.”


By Franki Hobson


Franki Hobson has worn many hats during her many years as a women's lifestyle journalist and editor. Her launching pad was COSMOPOLITAN magazine, where she moved from News & Entertainment Editor to Features Director, covering everything from the legalisation of the Morning After Pill to Gwen Stefani, fashion, beauty, sex, health, fitness, entertainment and relationships. Franki Hobson is a contributing lifestyle writer for The Carousel.


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