Bright side – summer vacay is just around the corner. But oh, how big is that chasm between now and then with exams and final projects and end of the school year deadlines! Never fear – you will get there. And if you do it right, you will succeed!
A key part in succeeding is stress management. So this is what I want to talk about today – believe me, I have taken a zillion exams over my lifetime (high school, college, med school, medicine board exams, etc!), so I know what I am talking about! So, exam stress management - AKA:
Here you go…. Step by step instructions:
- Make a study schedule – break up everything you need to study and assign parts of it to specific days. Make sure you don’t leave the hard stuff for the end. You really should tackle the hard stuff first – while you're fresh and motivated and not yet all the way burnt out. Go through those tests – what did you get wrong? Figure out why…. Study those topics. Then leave time later in your schedule to study the stuff that is easier for you – or fresher in your mind. Study every day. But not all day every day.
- Get your sleep. Skimping on sleep to cram it all in will BACKFIRE! You may have extra hours to study that way, BUT you will be too tired to pull those facts – or apply them in a math problem or essay – during the exam. AKA “stressheimers”. You know more than you think – so put into your study schedule two very important things: SLEEP and REST.
- Take time for exercise – exercise is a known stress buster. Helps clear your head. Makes it easier to sit and stay focused mentally. Doesn’t have to be training for a triathalon. Can be a walk. Yoga. Dance Central. Shooting hoops. Whatever. Get some exercise every day. Maybe even on exam days: 1) Go to exams. 2) First thing when you’re done is get some food/fuel and get 30 min of some kind of exercise. 3) Then back to the study grind-stone……
- Eat healthy food. Studying is not an excuse to junk out. Garbage in your body is not going to fuel your brain for all the hard work you need to do. A few treats are fine…. But make the core of what you eat healthy and nutritious and not too heavy. A lot of fat and low-fiber carbs are going to make you sleeepppyyyy too, and that is NOT what you need right now! So eat what you KNOW you should ….the usual high protein, high fiber, fruits and veggies and water. Not too much caffeine after lunch either, because you don’t want to have a hard time falling asleep at night….
- Ask for help – one plus of figuring out what is hardest or what you don’t know early on in your study schedule is you still have time to go talk to that teacher or smart friend to get some help.
- When you start freaking out about what you don’t know, take a breath and think about all the stuff that you DO know. Break the cycle of negative thoughts.
- Mix up what you study – that will help keep you interested – so an hour English, and hour math… or whatever makes sense to you. Mix up HOW you study – review notes, then do some problems, then quiz yourself using books or study questions or online resources from your school. Don’t ignore study packs and reviews from your teachers! They put those together for a reason – and they will help you focus!
- Take breaks – maybe once an hour, get up and walk around for 5 minutes. Put on a tune that you like and dance around. BUT avoid those things that suck you into them for hours and hours while you are in a time- warp completely unaware of time passing by (youknowwhattimtalkinabout….. snapchat, twitter, instagram, smartphone, xbox…. etc). You have to take a break that gets you right back into studying.
- On that note, watch out for those electronics! Studying while texting will just take longer and won’t be as effective. Mimic how you have to take the test – people do better if they study under the same conditions as the test taking conditions (no music, at a desk, no constant socials, you get the idea). Maybe you could make a pact with your friends to shut down at the same time so that no one will feel like they're missing out on anything. And everyone benefits from uninterrupted time to study. Or ask your parents to hold your smartphone captive …. I am sure they’d be happy to do that for you ANY time!
OK, test time – now what? You are a total stress monster. Butterflies. Dizzy. Heart racing. Queasy. Feeling like you're going to vomit. Short of breath. You know the deal. You know what? – that is NORMAL. That is your body kicking out adrenaline so that you can face the challenge. So don’t freak out about what your body is making you feel. But I know those things don’t feel good. So a few things that can help settle you down to focus.
- Remind yourself you are prepared. You studied. You rested. You treated yourself well.
- Eat a healthy breakfast – nothing fatty and carb-y. I used to do PB&J and a big glass of milk. Didn’t get hungry during the test – didn’t get sleepy – and it didn’t upset my stomach.
- Take some slow deep breaths. No hyperventilating or panting – makes it all worse.
- Give yourself a pep talk. Maybe decide in advance what you want to say to yourself. Positive thoughts go a long way. I used to have this ritual of playing my favorite song or two on the way to my exams – got myself happy and energized and pumped up for the test. Maybe that works for you too…?
Now GO! Clobber those exams and when you’re done, a break will be waiting just around the corner!