Managing Study Stress
Try These Study Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Exams…
Managing the stress that can come with exams is tricky. Maybe you’ve formed bad habits around studying or haven’t learned any at all and now exams are coming. Or maybe the techniques you’ve used in the past got you through, but they’ve outlived their usefulness. You may start to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Learning a few study techniques can, however, help you feel more in control and less stressed. We’ve put together some tips that can help you survive (and thrive) during exams.
If remembering content is challenging, you might find these tips helpful:
Write It Up. Writing your notes can be really useful since it engages the brain to help facilitate memory. Typing your notes is a quick, helpful way of recording information and having a legible reference point. Once they’re on paper, though, hone your memory and take in the information that you’ve learnt by rewriting your notes by hand.
Become the Teacher. Another fantastic way to memorise facts and concepts is to teach them to someone. Form a study group to help one another learn calculus formulas, explain the Cold War to your dad on the drive to get takeaway or create a Kahoot for your friends from French class. Add a little fun by having a trivia night, using concepts from your exam outline for questions. Research your topics using both your notes and outside sources like YouTube or articles that may present the information in a way that solidifies it more clearly. Be sure to look after yourself and stick with students that have a positive approach to study. We all have moments when studying can feel overwhelming but if you’re finding that the conversation routinely gets negative (“We’re going to fail”) or full of distractions (“I’ve just got to post one more thing on Instagram”), you might want to look for people who share your exam prep style. Whether you take a subject to a study group, teach your Nanna Chinese characters or recite your English essay to your dog, repeating your notes out loud can assist in imprinting the information in your brain.
Give it a try.
Make a Flash(card). Flashcards are particularly useful for subjects that require memorisation of facts, such as language, science and geography. Flashcards encourage and enhance active recall, creating neural pathways in your brain. Each time you use a flashcard, you’ve created another street in your memory village. Before you know it, you’ve built a small city of knowledge to access during your exam. Remember to balance the time you take making the flashcards with studying the information. A good balance is useful for learning and retaining facts and concepts.
Map it Out. We use maps every day to get where we need to go. Why not use them to navigate your exams? Mind maps use verbal and visuospatial skills to assist in connecting a central concept and with information related to it. As you branch out further, you brain has more opportunities to associate the information and solidify it in your memory. Your mind map can be as simple as a drawing with connected clouds or as complex as a 3D computer animation.
Practice Makes Perfect. Many students use practice exams as a key technique for studying. Using past exam papers is especially useful, particularly closer to exams when you have reviewed the information and are just looking to consolidate your knowledge. Reviewing past exam papers checks your ability to recall information and test what you know. It also gives you the chance to review content that you may have previously struggled with. It’s a great way to turn an exam mistake into a new learning.
If time management and procrastination are your enemies, these next tips might be just what you’re looking for....
On Your Mark. Always seem to run out of time during exams? Or do find you have heaps of time for some questions but not enough for others? For most of us, time management is a learned skill and needs practise. Old exam papers offer another benefit in starting to cue you into thinking about time management. By timing a practice exam, you can schedule how much time you will need to allow for each component in order to complete the test in the allotted time. For example, if it takes 45 minutes to write an essay, you might use 15 minutes of the hour to plan and 45 minutes to write. For short answer questions, you might work on each one for 10 minutes or plan on 5 minutes for easier and 12 minutes for more difficult ones. The more opportunities you give yourself to simulate the test conditions, the more confident you are likely to feel when you sit the real thing.
Get Set. There’s nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed, leaving study until the last minute (where you try to cram three months of study into three hours) and then losing sleep, feeling stressed and hating on yourself because you messed up… again. Sound familiar? Procrastination happens for lots of reasons. Hopefully some of the tips above will help you get your head around the content. If it still feels overwhelming or Netflix is calling your name, try thinking in tomatoes instead of hours. The Pomodoro Method, the time management tool that takes the Italian word for tomato (pomodoro) and pairs it with a kitchen timer that was ubiquitous back in the day, is a simple but effective method that breaks study time up into bite size pieces.
Before you know it, you’ll cruise through revision and still have time for a run, some chocolate, a chat with a friend or an episode of your favourite show. The sooner you put this strategy into practise, the better but wherever you’re at in your study schedule, The Pomodoro Method can help you feel calmer going into exams.
Here’s how it works:
- Pick a task
- Set a 25-minute timer
- Work on your task until the timer goes off (remember those other tips!)
- Take a 5-minute break
- After 4 “pomodoros”, take a 15–30-minute break
- Then start the process again!
Go! So, it’s the week of exams and you’ve tried some of these strategies. You got your friends together for study sessions, taught your fish chemistry, and worked through your tomatoes. You’ve got one more thing to look after……. Yourself! Amid remembering facts and figures, its easy to forget the basics of mental and physical health. Here’s a refresher:
- Eat healthy, varied foods that keep you full and energised.
- Make time for physical activity even in 10-minute increments.
- Connect with friends and family.
- Switch off. Give yourself the best chance for regenerative sleep by switching off devices an hour before bed. Use that time to wind down with a shower, some music or a relaxing podcast.
- Carve out mindful moments in your day. Meditation is one way to get mindful but there are many others. Head online to get some ideas.
- Prepare for success by getting ready the night before, choosing comfortable clothing, grabbing study tools and snacks and setting your alarm.
Finally, practise self-compassion. Sometimes, even with the best preparation, things don’t go to plan. Take time to reflect but make sure you keep it real, reviewing both what you might have done differently but also what you’ve learnt and moments of pride in the experience.
Hopefully, you’ve found these study method snippets useful. As with any new skill, exam preparation takes practise and experience to learn what works best. Time and patience will give you the chance to discover your study style.