Personal Growth

Exam Stress: How to Manage it From a Straight A Student

exam stress avoid stress while studying

Exam season is coming up, so that means that exam stress is around the corner too! If you got the short end of the stick, all of your exams are happening at once, which can make studying for exams really stressful.

How do you get started on studying when you’ve got so much anxiety?

The art of studying while under pressure is something you can master. In my undergraduate degree, I cracked the code on how to avoid stress while studying, and I want to share my secrets with you.

Don’t worry if you get paralyzed by fear while studying or you tend to have memory blanks (I’ll give you strategies for those too). You will learn the material, and you won’t have a mental breakdown while doing it.

Tips You Need to Avoid Stress While Studying – Beat Exam Stress Now

If I told you to just sit down and study, it simply wouldn’t be enough. Why is that? Because studying involves a lot of mental preparation.

You need to look from within to beat your exam stress, and only when you do that will you be able to actually absorb all of the information you need to know.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to do to avoid stress while studying:

Have a Good Cry When You Have Exam Stress

I’m serious. Holding all of your tears in while you’re trying to study is the worst thing you can do. In fact, holding back your tears isn’t healthy for you.

This might feel counterproductive for you, but if you feel overwhelmed and can’t study, cry it out. Crying will help you because:

  • It eliminates stress hormones from your body. Cortisol is what’s circulating around your body when you’re feeling too stressed to study, so by eliminating it, you’re destressing.
  • It reduces manganese levels. Manganese is associated with higher levels of anxiety. Tears help reduce that high concentration from your body, which will help your mood in the long run.
  • It’s a form of self-care. Holding things back is never good. It’s a bad coping mechanism to have because, one day, your tears will eventually come out. Probably at the worst moment possible. When you’re sitting there crying, you’re acknowledging that you’re sad and letting the feelings pass.

Let me be perfectly clear: you don’t need to cry for several hours for stress reduction. That’s not productive and will actually make you feel worse.

Take up to half an hour to acknowledge your feelings and let all of that stress out. The goal is for you to have a clear mind before you hit the books.

After you’ve had your cry, start small. Accomplish small tasks, like memorizing something small or reading a few pages, so that you start feeling motivated again.

RELATED: 25 Fall Self-Care Ideas

Make a Plan

Of course you’ll feel the exam stress way more if you have no idea where to begin! Your workload will seem so much heavier because you haven’t made a plan of when and how you’ll study.

When you make a plan, you’ll have a clearer vision of how long it will take for you to study for something or accomplish a task. That feels way less overwhelming.

When I was in my first year of high school, our guidance counsellor gave us a booklet of ways we can plan out our study time for finals.

While I don’t use that exact formula, I have tweaked it to suit my needs and how I study (which is what you should do!).

You’ll need to figure out:

  • The days you’ll be studying for things (goodness, please do not study for more than one subject a day, unless you have those exams the next day)
  • How long your study sessions will last (when you’ll take breaks, how long you can study uninterrupted)
  • Where you will study (more on this later)

If you need inspiration, here’s what I do…

If you need some inspiration on a plan that’s already been made, here is what I do:

I alternate subjects every day. If I have a biology, chemistry and physics exam the following week, I study biology one day, chemistry the next, and physics the day after. Then, the cycle repeats itself again until exam time.

If I have an exam the following day, I study that subject that night. In that alternating schedule, I make sure that I can study the subject that’s being tested the night before. This is to make sure that it’s fresh in my mind.

I take breaks. Listen to your body. You’ll get into a routine where you feel motivated to study after a few rounds of studying. However, when I feel tired, I allow myself to take breaks. You’re allowed to rest.

I always study for 45 to 50 minutes straight, and give myself a 20 minute break.

That might be a little intense for most people, so I recommend looking into the Pomodoro technique as a good studying starting point.

Eliminate all Distractions

If you study with your phone by your side, switch it up!

For people with short attention spans, having a bunch of distractions all around you is a recipe for disaster when you need to focus. You can’t be fully immersed in your work when you found a Rubik’s cube in your desk.

I hate to be a party pooper, but get rid of anything that might distract you from your work. Common culprits are:

  • Your cellphone or any technology that you’re not using for studying;
  • Your social media tabs when you’re working on your laptop;
  • Pets (If you’re like me, you need to give cats a good rub before you get to work);
  • Clutter!

These distractions are personal to you and your work space, but you probably already have an idea of what they are.

Declutter that space!

A clean desk is a happy desk. How are you supposed to get work done and not feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff on your desk? A messy desk actually kills your productivity, and you don’t want that.

Quickly get rid of anything you don’t need on your desk before you get to work.

Don’t get me wrong, this shouldn’t replace your studying time. Decluttering your desk should only take 5 minutes, tops.

So, get rid of all that extra paper, old water bottles, or anything that just takes up space for nothing. You can thank me later.

Figure Out the Root Cause of Your Exam Stress

Think about it for a minute – why are you really stressed? Pinpointing why you’re stressed about studying can actually help you.

Here are common causes of exam stress. Is it because…

  • There is just too much material to learn?
  • You’re failing this class or you need to get a higher grade?
  • The exam is worth a lot and you’re scared of doing poorly?
  • You don’t understand the material and feel helpless?

You can have more than one root cause of your exam stress. Make a list of what’s bothering you so you can find solutions.

Here are some solutions you can come up with if you have the same problems as I’ve listed above:

If you have too much material to learn:

I once had to learn 300 medications and their side effects for an exam. I did it, but I was only able to do it with a plan.

Make a study schedule (like we talked about), and scan the material before diving deeper. Write down any questions that you might have or that you think will be on the exam.

Then, teach yourself the material: Put your teacher pants on and try to explain yourself the material. You’ll notice that you’ll start making links between topics, and you’ll start understanding it way better!

After that, answer the questions you wrote down. Use it as test practice, and if you still have questions that you can’t answer, email your professor for some help.

If you need a higher grade and/or the exam is worth a lot:

Treat it like a challenge. You might not be doing as well right now, but with just one test, you have the ability to turn it all around.

By switching to a growth mindset, you’ll see studying as a challenge and a positive thing to do. Not only will you reduce your stress while studying, but this mindset will help you out in other areas of your life.

If you don’t understand the material:

I hate it when that happens. Try to figure out what went wrong. Is it the professor that has a different teaching style that you’re used to? Did you miss class? Whatever it is, you can fix it.

Try to work through it alone first. This can save you time.

If you still don’t understand anything while you study, do you have friends in this class? You can ask them for help.

If not, you have your professor who can help you, or mentors at your school who are able to teach you what you’re struggling with. Don’t be scared, they were in the same boat as you at one point!

Figure Out the Best Way You Learn

Some people still don’t know how they learn best, and that’s a wasted opportunity! You’ll save so much time and energy if you know the best ways to get your brain working.

How do you process information the best?

Think about it. Which classes do you absolutely love?

Is it the classes where there are lots of diagrams and photos?

Is it the classes where the professor explains everything out loud?

Or do you prefer experiencing things yourself to learn?

There are different ways that people like to learn. This whole concept is called the VAK Learning Styles and it’s been a lifesaver for me.

You’re visual if you learn best by looking at diagrams and visually appealing graphics.

You’re auditory if you prefer learning from detailed explanations.

You might be kinesthetic if you enjoy the hands-on approach to learning.

You can absolutely have more than one learning type, but more often than not, you’ll have one type that you do better in. When you find out which type it is, use that to your advantage and study that way!

Do you study better alone or in groups?

This depends on the topic and how quickly you get distracted, but figure out if you do better in a group setting or by yourself. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but test them out!

I recommend doing both!

Studying in groups is great, especially when there are lots of concepts you need to memorize (biology, psychology, history etc.).

Find an Amazing Support System

The people around you might be accidentally stressing you out. It’s true.

You’re more likely to be stressed out if you have friends who obsess over their grades and try to compare themselves to you all the time.

Or, if you have family members that tell you that you’re not trying hard enough, that’s not going to magically motivate you to study. Like, really Karen?

This is additional stress that you don’t need during exam season.

Distance yourself from people who stress you out during exam time, but also find people who will support you without judgement.

If you’re in university, you can find that everywhere: your roomates, your RA, mentors, even your good professors. You’ll have to look a bit harder than in high school, but they’re there.

Make Sure You Live a Balanced Life Outside of School

Please sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends tell me that they don’t sleep during exam season. Do not do that.

You can find that balance by making sure that you eat a balanced diet, keep a decent sleep schedule and still keep some semblance of a social life.

Eat when you’re hungry.

You won’t get a gold medal for not stopping your studying to eat. You need to eat. Your brain needs that fuel to keep working, and you’ll drive yourself to exhaustion if you keep skipping meals.

If cooking always takes a long time for you, here are some quick and healthy recipes that you can make to fuel up.

Avoid pulling all-nighters.

Taking an exam while sleep deprived is probably the worst feeling in the world. Take it from me: please avoid it.

You should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep so that you’re not a full on zombie during your exam.

To avoid this, remember to plan out your study schedule like we discussed!

Talk to your friends.

Even if you don’t talk for long, please talk to your friends during exam season, especially if you’re stressed out while studying.

It helps you get out of your head, and make you feel human again. I like to:

  • Plan out lunch dates
  • Study together for an afternoon
  • Text them to catch up

These aren’t super big time commitments, but it’s enough to make you feel like a normal human being. This is something you need during stressful exam time.

Cut Back on the Coffee

HEY! Hear me out, don’t get rid of coffee. Don’t get me wrong, caffeine is wonderful.

However, know when enough is enough.

There comes a point where it stops helping you stay awake, it just gives you the jitters.

There are also anxiety-inducing side effects of having too much caffeine, including:

  • Heart palpitations;
  • Insomnia;
  • Shakiness and jitters;
  • Anxiety.

Please don’t give yourself extra anxiety for nothing! Know when to stop. Replace a cup of coffee with some tea or cold water.

Just Breathe

When it all becomes too much, try mindful breathing. By taking deep breaths, you can center yourself just enough to focus on what you need to do and get rid of that exam anxiety.

Remember to breathe when you’re taking an exam and right before. You’ve prepared and the extra stress just gets you down. You’ve got this!

Conclusion: You Can Beat Exam Stress

Exam stress can be debilitating, especially when you’re not used to being overwhelmed. Take it from me: it gets easier.

You will develop the strategies that work for you when you need to study. They will help you save time and precious energy. You can do well if you put your mind to it.

I sincerely hope that my strategies can help you destress while studying. You’ve got this!

Peace out!