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Tips for dealing with exam stress

Jennie Meynell
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
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Exam stress

With the HSC exams coming up, many teenagers are facing what is, for most, the biggest challenge yet. Everyone's individual reactions to it will be different. Many students, however, may be panicking. Follow our advice on taking exams, and reduce stress the easy way.


Plan your time
Draw up a realistic revision schedule and stick to it. Include some time for relaxation — it's not healthy to constantly have your nose in a book. To maximise your concentration, break up your time into 15-minute segments, interspersed by five-minute breaks. Knowing that you have a break coming up helps to prevent you from losing interest completely.

Don't be unrealistic
You've spent most of your life at school, and you have a good idea of what you're capable of. If you're an average student, you're unlikely to suddenly jump to the top of the class. Being realistic will help prevent you (and your parents!) from being disappointed when the results come in. The key thing is to do your best.

Avoid sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll (but especially drugs)
Anything that can give you a high will eventually give you a low. Don't try to deal with your stress by turning to alcohol or recreational drugs — apart from anything else, you need all the memory you can get right now! Try not to drink too much coffee either — the caffeine won't help you to concentrate. Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and your brain functioning at its best.

Revise methodically
Simply reading long swathes of text is not going to help you to remember facts and figures. Write out important dates, facts or passages, use lots of coloured pens and underline key phrases. Go back over these notes a day later, and then a week after that. Your memory will be better and you will feel more confident about your exams.

Test yourself
Test yourself or get someone to test you on your notes. Bribe a brother or sister to do it for you, or ask your parents. Testing yourself regularly means that you remember facts better and any gaps in your knowledge can be picked up in good time — making the actual exam a lot less stressful.

Stick notes around your house
Buy cardboard stars in bright colours from newsagents, or make some out of card. Write key facts and phrases on each and stick them around your bedroom (preferably on items where they won't leave a mark!) in places where you'll often see them, for example, on your mirror or inside a cupboard that you often open. After a while, these facts will sink in without any extra effort on your part.

Ignore your friends
Not entirely, of course! But when your mates say how much revision they've been doing, they might not be telling the truth. Don't use them as a benchmark — they might not want to seem daggy for doing lots of revision, or they might not be doing enough. Know yourself and know what you have to do — you're in this for yourself.

Ask for help
There are great sources of support available if you feel that you need it. Ask a teacher if you don't understand a particular topic now that you're revisiting it — it doesn't have to the one who taught you if you don't feel that they're good at explaining things to you. School counsellors and even good old mum and dad are also great for getting worries "off your chest". You're not alone, so don't feel that you have to be.

Have a fall-back plan
Okay, so maybe you want to go and study at Harvard, become a top brain surgeon and also have a simultaneous career in tap-dancing BUT, however achievable these goals might be, make sure you have a Plan B. For example, if you don't make your grades, you could consider not going to uni for a year and retaking your exams. Or you might decide to go to a different uni, or just not bother at all. Working out at least a vague idea of what you want to do in life will help you to come up with a fall-back plan (or even two).

Get some exercise
Exercise is a great way to give yourself a break and to max out your concentration span. You don't have to do hours of circuit training — a 15-minute jog or a brisk walk will do the job nicely.


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