You study hard for that pesky major exam as if your life depended on it. And after what seemed like an eternity, that big test is finally here! But here’s a problem: although you managed to pull several all-nighters, you still feel unprepared or anxious even.
Did you know that anxiety as a response is perfectly normal? Considering the time and effort you’ve spent on the big exam day, you are allowed to feel pre-exam jitters. Experts call this episode of intense, unnerving fear before or during an exam “test anxiety” which, when patiently dealt with, shouldn’t be too bad.
Generally, students may experience two different kinds of test anxiety: low anxiety and high anxiety. A student who experiences low anxiety before an exam does not lose focus and is still completely at ease with their thoughts. One who suffers from high anxiety, on the other hand, feels an immediate anxious reaction toward the exam. This emotion is counterproductive and often results in panic and escapism. Ultimately, test anxiety can be motivational– as long as you put emotions under control.
But who wants to feel anxious? Are there ways to completely calm your nerves before the big test? Here, we have pulled together a foolproof list of proven ways to do just that:
Refocus Your Energy
Stressing over that big exam is in no way helpful to your sense of calm. You can either face it head on or ignore it for as long as you can, but it will hit you right in the gut whether you like it or not. If you think you’re helpless against pressure to do well in your test, consider refocusing your energy into something that will fuel your will to study. Remember the old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
First of all, put that gadget away! Let’s be honest; we have become more attached to our devices now more than ever before. It’s true that our phone is almost like an extension of ourselves, as it contains all of our connections. That buggy laptop also has everything we’ve worked hard for all these years in the university. However, if you resist checking your social media on these devices, don’t expect to finish studying on time—or to complete any task for that matter! Don’t be stuck in the middle of this gadget frenzy.
Here’s the thing: if you can devote 1 to 2 hours each day to purely studying, you’ll be on the right track. A common misconception is that people have short attention spans, studies prove otherwise. In fact, research says the mind has the ability to completely focus for up to 2 hours a day. If you are a morning person, devote at least two hours to studying. If you’re a night owl, go at it at night! It’s important that you use your most creative and most motivated time of the day to focus on the task at hand: studying for that big test!
So, you successfully made it through high school and college and you thought graduate school would be just as easy. Long story short, it’s a completely different, even fiercer ballgame that’s taking its toll on you—but it’s too late back out! Truth is, grad school is so much more demanding than high school and college combined. It requires your 100% all the time, especially during quizzes and exams. You cannot just wing it this time around; you need to come to class prepared.
After more than a decade of studying, you probably think that you’ve got this thing figured out. You have developed study habits that have worked for you and evidently helped achieve your goals. But if there is one thing that you shouldn’t ever take for granted, it’s being prepared. Studying ahead allows you to understand your lessons better.
Memory recall works best when the information is repeated multiple times. You cannot expect to remember the entire lesson in Managerial Accounting, for example, instantaneously. Devoting enough time to studying the course outline prior to taking a class or an exam is the best and most proven trick, and probably the oldest one in the book.
Do Not Cram
When exposed to a tremendous amount of stress, our bodies tend to react in various ways. Our heart rate increases, we sweat heavily, or we experience blurry eyesight indicating that we are in trouble. Did you know that after about 20 minutes following that stress attack, memory recall takes a considerable decline? This is the main reason why cramming is never helpful.
You read that right. Last-minute studying may have saved you in the past, but it does more harm than good in the long run. Your brain can only pick up so much in a short amount of time and being too stressed won’t help. In worst cases, it may even lead to permanent damage in your memory receptors, preventing you from recalling anything at all. Information retrieval is dependent on how well developed your memory is, and it is important that you refrain from stress to keep your brain healthy.
If you’re dealing with a do-or-die exam that you need to focus on, set a schedule and never deviate from it. Pulling all-nighters is never enough; you need to consistently find time in your daily and weekly routine to study and review. Ultimately, it all boils down to a strategy that works for you.
Eat and Drink Well
Does food intake really affect a student’s performance during an exam? Apparently so. This leads us to think twice before munching on those fast food chicken nuggets and king-sized burgers.
It goes without saying that a balanced diet keeps us healthy but for a graduate student who is about to take a major exam, eating healthy helps maintain focus. Remember to not skip a single meal to not only for the obvious nutritional benefits but also to avoid drastic drops in your blood sugar. You definitely do not want that, especially not before that big test!
When taking an exam, imagine your brain running a marathon. We all know that marathoners need the endurance to finish the race. Eating healthy during an exam, which is a stressful time for the brain, is important to promote mental alertness from start to finish.
Also, make sure that you eat a healthy dinner before the exam day but eat at least three hours before bed. We don’t want that dinner to interfere with your sleep. And of course, eat breakfast! We can never emphasize this enough: do not skip breakfast on your exam day! Research shows that breakfast eaters are more equipped to perform better in tests. Be sure to include slow-release carbohydrates and fish high in Omega-3 fats in your diet.
The history of aromatherapy dates back to ancient Greece. During the Chinese civilization, aromatherapy was used as a mood enhancer. The Egyptians developed the distillation machines that were used to extract essential oils from various plants used for embalming the dead.
Today, the best kinds of aromatherapy are considered a luxurious indulgence that only a handful of people have access to. The good news is, there are many cost-effective ways to actually enjoy the calming effect of essential oils. Apart from its medicinal purposes, one of its many wonders is its effects on focus and concentration. A little of it goes a long way.
Diffusing a few drops of peppermint oil will transform your entire room into a calm and soothing place for hours of arduous studying. It is an inexpensive and minty way to improve memory, focus, and your mood. It will help you stay focused, alert and awake. A relaxing environment increases brain retention rates, so you are sure to remember your note for that big test.
Rosemary and sage get the job done. Aside from making keeping the air smelling fresh, these herbs also improve concentration. Forget about burning sage to depict witchcraft movies; it is a life hack fit for graduate students like you!
There is no better way to prepare for an exam than getting a good night’s rest. It is a proven way to perform well in your test. However, students tend to bargain sleep with extra study time which isn’t exactly a good idea.
Sacrificing sleep is bad for your brain. It may allow you to finish the remaining few hundred pages of reading assignments, but it will affect your memory and lead to poor performance. A study has shown that the more time we spend awake, the weaker our memory becomes. If we force ourselves to stay awake when we’re supposed to be sleeping, the neurons in our brains become saturated. This leads to a decrease in memory retention and causes the brain to go to an overdrive. Sleeping before your big test to allow the neurons in your brain to regenerate and form new connections.
Aside from a renewed sense of motivation and energy, sleep improves brain function. And when do you need your brain to work at its best? During an exam day of course! So, go ahead, get some well-deserved good night’s sleep.
Stay in Control
Don’t allow test anxiety to get the best of you. While it’s perfectly normal to feel stressed in anticipation of that major exam, it is never okay for you to lose control.
The competitive education system leads students to perceive recreational activities as a waste of time. With a societal expectation to do well, students are pressured to excel. This leaves them with no outlet to de-stress and socialize. Stress is an inevitable effect of this overachieving and isolationist lifestyle of students, especially in graduate school.
Yes, stress may undermine success, but taking control of the situation can be life-changing. We all know that stress is deeply ingrained in our psyche. No one is exempt from feeling it. But it’s not about coping with stress; it’s how you respond to stress that’s crucial! When something doesn’t seem right, you can always turn the negativity into something positive. Transform that feeling of anxiety into motivation to perform better! Resilience is key in this process. It is easier said than done but it starts with continuously thinking and speaking positive thoughts. These are your emotions; it’s your job to take control!
Skim Through Your Notes
Making personalized notes is probably the most effective way to study. Your precious notes may save you from failing your exam! It is important that you devote some time writing down ideas that easily slip your mind. Note taking is a skill you are bound to master as you go on with your academic endeavor.
Note taking keeps key ideas and concepts organized and easily accessible when you prepare for your major examination. Skim through your notes before the exam. Also, make sure to review past exams (if any) from the same professor. This will allow you to familiarize the type of test that you are about to take, which is just as important as knowing exactly what to study.
Skimming through your notes is like performing a memory exercise of sorts. Don’t forget to use memorizing techniques like flashcards and mnemonics.
Did you know that three deep breaths go a long way? After spending long days studying and many sleepless nights of constantly battling with academic-related stress, just breathe.
When you are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, breathing exercises can help decrease your stress level. The trick is to make a conscious effort to breathe slowly. Sighing is also actually a great reflex and breathing technique that counts as an effective lung exercise. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and breathe out with a big sigh. You can repeat this method for as many times as you need.
Breathing properly is the fastest way to calm your nerves, relax your body, put your mind at ease, and take control of your emotions—just the four things you need right before an exam! Luckily, we can do as much deep breathing as we need to relieve stress!
Focus on the Task at Hand
The inevitable has come. Today is your exam day. There is no better way to ace that test other than to FOCUS. Be mindful of your environment but stay completely focused on your exam. Remember, you’ve put in so much work preparing for this day and you can’t let all that go to waste! Breathe easy and calmly recall everything you studied. You are ready for success!
While you’re at it, remind yourself that it’s only a test. Your grade will not define your full capacity as a student. Most importantly, your grade doesn’t define the person that you are. Pass or fail, give yourself a pat on the back for surviving the day—and for doing everything you possibly could to prepare for it.
No matter how much you try to hide or deny it, you can’t help but stress over an exam—and you are allowed to feel that way. Acknowledge and accept that feeling while doing what you must to make it through.