Managing exam pressure

Managing exam pressure

Managing stress and pressure during exam time will help you prepare well, and stay focused during the actual exam.

Jude West, from the University’s Wellbeing team, explores both positive and negative stress, and how you can manage both in the lead up to exams and due dates for final assessments.

Positive stress

(Yes, there is such a thing!)

This is what happens when you’re doing a task which takes all of your skills and resources to complete. Positive stress makes you feel motivated, and gives you an adrenaline rush to help you keep going through the challenge.

Negative stress

This is when you have more demands than you can handle. It feels like anxiety, burn out, or being overwhelmed. Too much negative stress is detrimental to your performance.

So, how do you prepare for exams to manage stress and show your best work?

Optimise your time with good preparation

It’s a clich󠇂é, but cramming the night before your exam is not a good strategy. During your study sessions, focus on the key topics of from the course, and review past exam papers—these are available from The Library. If it seems like a lot of work, break down the topics in to small chunks because micro-tasking works!

Fuel your body with what it needs to succeed

All-nighters in the lead up to exams are your enemy. If you don’t sleep, your mind won’t perform. Aim for at least six hours sleep a night, eat well, stay hydrated, and take regular exercise breaks doing an activity you enjoy. The time you spend fuelling your body will be well worth it because you’ll come to your study refreshed, able to focus, and retain information.

Choose a positive response to pressure

If you build up the importance of the exam in your head, the anxiety this creates will impact negatively on your peformance. Instead of treating it like a test, try reframing the exam as an opportunity to show and articulate your knowledge and skills in your subject area.

Manage your anxiety during study and in the exam

If you find you are getting anxious while studying, or in the exam itself,take a moment to concentrate on your breath. Use the square breathing technique:

Breathe in for six seconds > Hold for six seconds > Breathe out for six seconds > Hold for six seconds

Repeat this pattern eight times to calm your nervous system and help you to regain your focus to continue. Ground yourself by noticing what’s around you and engaging your senses—see, smell, hear, and touch—this will help your body to relax.

If you need more support or advice to manage your health and wellbeing at this time in the academic year, reach out to Student Health and Counselling (Mauri Ora) on 04 463 5308.

Jude West is a wellbeing educator and advisor in the Wellbeing team.

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