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Exams coming up? Here's 6 ideas to help manage your stress

School exams coming up in two weeks? 🔥 *Hits panic button* 🔥

On one hand, high levels of exam stress affects a young person’s ability to pay attention and memorise things. That doesn’t sound good if you’re trying to focus and retain information 😅

On the other hand, science also shows a “stress response” can increase oxygen to the brain, improving your attention, focus, energy and determination. 

Okay, so stress is bad and good. So how do you make it work for you? 🤔

If you feel overwhelmed before exams there are ways you can manage (rather than compress) stress and channel it for good. Here are six ways to feel in control and manage your level of stress before exam time 📖

1. Get into the right headspace 

School is important, that’s true. But passing or failing a single exam won’t make you unemployable or #cancel your future. In fact, employers are more interested in your attitude, your personality, your communication and problem solving skills, and the fact you tried your best.

Whether you ace or flunk your exams, that doesn’t define you as a person.

What does define your character is whether you put in the work and gave it your best shot.

You’ve already overcome any challenges thrown your way, so the next block of exams is just another hurdle to leap over.

The best thing you can do for yourself is get organised.

2. Plan out your time

Do you use a calendar to block out your time? When you have lots to do and are feeling overwhelmed, organisational techniques like time-blocking can help put you back in control 🤓 📅

Grab your digital or paper calendar and start with the basics.

  • When are your exams? Write them down in your calendar.
  • Next, think about how much time you need for revision for each exam. Some exams you might need more time than others.
  • Then you need to consider how you study best – is it a big two-hour block focused on one topic? Or shorter 25-minute bursts using the Pomodoro method (try it).
  • Where do you prefer to study? Spread out on your bed, or sitting at a desk? ✍️
  • If you go to study at the library with friends do you actually get any study done? Be honest and do what is best for you.

Before you schedule the study blocks in your calendar, drop in blocks for any other set commitments like school, piano lessons, sports practice, family lunch and social events. 

Then drop in your study blocks.

This is a simple illustration of what your calendar could look like.

3. Get clear on what you need to study

Nobody likes nasty surprises, so the second part of getting organised is planning what you actually want to study. Planning this ahead of time gives you a roadmap so you make the most of your time when you sit down. 

Keep a to-do list on paper, stick a post-it note on your desk for each subject or exam and add the things you need to revise, or use a digital notepad to track things on the fly. 

If something doesn’t go to plan, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day and you can move your study block to another time.

4. Healthy habits will get you to the finish line

Now is not the time to stop showering, hide in your room and dive into that bag of chips or chocolate block 🍫

Good habits during exam time will help you concentrate better and reduce your stress.

Some quick tips to stay sharp 💪

  • Eat well: avoid energy peaks and troughs by eating foods that will keep you full like pasta, rice, bread, fruit and veg 🍎
  • Drink water: make a hydration station next to your desk 💦
  • Take breaks: Most people can only *really* concentrate for 30-45 minutes. Make sure to allow yourself regular breaks, and when you do - get up and move your body.
  • Get active: speaking of movement, exercise will help your mind de-stress. Schedule regular walks or exercise 🚶
  • Sleep on it: Your busy mind needs to regenerate - so make sure you get eight hours of sleep a night 😴

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5. Be kind to yourself

You’re a human being not a robot, and sleeping eight hours a night is just the tip of the iceberg of being kind to you.

Around exam time it’s more important than ever to set boundaries and schedule in time to relax.

You can’t possibly be switched on at school and spend the whole evening studying. It’s not healthy and will more likely be counterproductive as you’ll end up unable to meet your own high expectations and then feel really shitty about failing your own study goals.

Instead be realistic and set aside time to decompress after each study session. You could use the time to read a book for fun, take a long, relaxing bath or paint the next Picasso 🛀 🎨

6. Ask for support from friends and family

Your friend says they are going to be studying ALL weekend. You feel a little stressed and guilty because you weren’t planning to do that. Should you be studying all weekend too? Try not to compare yourself to your friends. Everyone is different so find what works for you around exam time 📖

Your parents can also cause exam stress. If you feel worried or anxious about their high expectations talk to them about it. Ask for support and detail your study plan. If they see you are organised and giving it your best shot, they should respect that.

Remember you can always talk to someone – your teacher, an aunty, a good friend – about feeling stressed about school exams. They may have some other advice or tips to help you manage the load. And sometimes, well, it’s just nice to vent.

Pssst, we don’t want to add ~yet another~ thing to your plate. But – once exams are finished and you’re on school holidays – you should think about your future skills. Passing exams is great, but being an empowered problem solver is better. Set a reminder and check out our virtual work experience and upskilling microprograms that will give you a taste and skills for the real world.

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