With students receiving immense pressure from parents, mentors, and peers to succeed, exam anxiety is on the rise. Test stress affects thousands of students nationwide and around the world, both in primary schools and in college. It has caused lowered grades, diminished health, and an increase in substance abuse amongst millennials. The stress that comes from major exams, like midterms and finals, is hurting us all – and it’s time we did something about it.
This post was inspired by Study Medicine Europe, but all opinions are my own.
Study Medicine Europe compiled an infographic with the effects, statistics, causes, and solutions of test stress. It was found that many college students have resorted to alcohol and drugs and have developed further mental health problems from the stress of these big exams – and SME reports that schools are providing little support to students in need.
Here is the full image:
Remedying this disorder can raise GPAs and increase student productivity – but eliminating test stress is easier said than done. In addition to those mentioned on the graphic, here are some ways to help you calm your nerves and escape the anxiety that comes from tantalizing tests:
Recognize the problem.
There are several symptoms that you’ll notice if you experience test anxiety. You may have trouble sleeping, or spend more time worrying about the test than actually studying. When you actually get to the exam room, you may “freeze up,” and not be able to remember the material. Your body might also give you clues, like making you feel nauseous or tensing your muscles. If you feel panicked or experience any of these symptoms, exam anxiety may be a reality for you. The first step to fixing the problem is recognizing it, though, so you’re on the right track!
Maintain consistent study habits.
If you feel that you experience test stress, the first step is to work on your study habits. The graphic above notes that creating a “personal study plan” can be particularly beneficial. Here are a few things you might include in your plan:
- Study a little bit each day, instead of cramming the night before an exam.
- Do the readings before class so you synthesize information better while you’re learning it – it will make remembering and studying a lot easier!
- Set aside time (or a certain space) to study. Consistency is key to tricking your mind into going into productive mode. Your bed may not be the best place for studying, because your body associates this location with relaxation and sleep – but you may associate the library with work and focus, so it might be the perfect spot for you! Similarly, if you know you learn better in the mornings, you might have to get up early to study, instead of going against your body trying to study at night.
- Use a planner (like this one!) (aff.) or due date spreadsheet instead of trying to remember everything.
Manage your stress.
Stress management has been a major part of my life since I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety/panic disorder in high school. I have been able to minimize my panic attacks by following the doctor’s orders, and figuring out a few tricks of my own. Here are some of the ones that can help with exam anxiety, in particular:
- Keep a journal. This has helped me manage my stress the most. Even if I don’t realize anything is stressing me out, just writing down what’s going on in my life helps me get out the stress that I’m suppressing. I try to journal regularly, but especially when I realize there is an issue I need to resolve. For exams, journaling may mean listing out your test-taking strategies, or recording your greatest stressors and their resolutions. Customize this tip for you!
- On the day of the exam, drink plenty of water, exercise prior to the test, and practice breathing deeply. All of these can help your mind relax, so you can just focus on remembering the material!
Talk it out.
Just as the image above points out, confiding in a friend, family member, professor, or advisor can be crucial to your success. Especially if you aren’t in to keeping a journal, discussing your stress with others can really help. Even if you feel like no one understands, your school likely has a counseling center – and it’s their job to listen to you and do what they can to help.
Talking is also a great study strategy: if you can say the term out loud instead of writing it down, you probably know it even better!
Prepare your body.
Watching your consumption of various chemicals and nutrients can lower your anxiety levels significantly. According to SME, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol all “heighten your emotions” and can send your stress levels through the roof. There are certain foods that can add to your anxiety, too. Any food that is especially processed (like sliced ham and bacon) can make your exam anxiety even worse.
Managing exam anxiety, like any other form of severe stress, is an ongoing and difficult process, but with these tips, you’ll be headed in the right direction toward better grades and a happier college experience!
For even more study tips, visit Study Medicine Europe’s Guide to Effective Studying.