How to deal with exam anxiety?

With exams coming up, everyone is feeling ‘off’ in some ways. This can range from a mild feeling of nervousness to a full-blown panic attack. Furthermore, exam anxiety can affect not only the exam performance but the preparation for the exam itself.

Speaking from experience

Exam anxiety is something I have struggled with my whole life, but it was only last year that I realizedit is actually not normal. It is not normal to feel super overwhelmed with your studies or to start feeling like you do not know or understand anything. Of course, it is rare that you’re always going to be super confident while studying but studying shouldn’t have a huge negative impact on your life.

While learning how to deal with these issues, I tried out many different methods and read many articles that offer solutions. So, to make things easier for you, I bring you a small tutorial on how to recognize if you have bad exam anxiety and my suggestions on how to deal with this.

Quick "self-diagnose"

Firstly, some symptoms of exam anxiety I had:

  1. extreme feeling of confusion
  1. losing touch with friends
  1. feeling moody and low
  1. feeling extremely overwhelmed
  1. troubles sleeping and getting out of bed
  1. lack of appetite
  1. feeling like your body is really heavy

How to feel better?

If you have all, or some, of these symptoms to some degree, here are 8 tips on how to conquer them. Click on each of them to learn more.

1. Remember the most important thing

While it may seem so, exams aren’t everything. Nor are grades and school. Failing or doing bad in an exam is NOT the end of the world!!! Of course, school is important, but just because you didn’t excel in an exam doesn’t mean you didn’t learn anything. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember to take mental health checks every once in a while.

2. Read the course description

If you are unsure of what to actually study, try reading the course description – you will probably find some key points on what knowledge you should have gained. This might be of great help in the next steps. If, however, the course description does not offer information, try contacting your professor and ask them for more details. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to help!

3. Make a study plan

After you have gotten familiar with what the course is actually about, see how many lectures you had, how content heavy they are, and how much time you have before the exam. This will help you split the work into however many days you need/have. I like to go through maximum two lectures a day and leave the last day or two before the exam for revising and talking to classmates.

4. Find out how to study

This is very much a personal preference, but I like studying in a quiet place. Not too quiet though, since I do like snacking! The point is to find out what time of day you are best focused, how long you can be focused for, and where do you focus best. Another thing to consider is group sessions – maybe studying alone has been the problem all along and you just want to study with people.

5. Don't come empty-handed

Imagine this: here you are, tired but full of knowledge and want to have a break. But alas! No snacks, no food, no drinks… This is a big no-no when studying for a long time. No food or drinks means no energy! I would suggest packing a lot of fruit, nuts, and water. Also try to avoid fast food, artificial sweets, and energy drinks since these will give you a concentration boost very fast and then bring your energy extremely low.

6. Take breaks

I have not met a single person who can stay sharply focused for a long period of time. It is only natural for us to lose focus once we get a bit tired. Therefore, remember to take breaks to give your body and brain time to adjust to sitting, staring and the computer, and absorbing an enormous amount of information. My advice (and method) is to study for two hours, then take a 20-minute break. It is of utmost importance that during this break you don’t do any work – don’t search for additional information about the subject, don’t try to go through your notes. Instead, scroll through social media, listen to music, or stretch your legs a bit.

7. Print, highlight, notes, repeat

This one is by far my holy grail. I cannot read any books or articles on my computer. It is just a lot easier to have it in my hands. If possible, I prefer to buy the books and print the other needed material. This way, I can highlight the most important things as I am reading and take notes on my computer.

8. Don't overwork yourself

I’ve already mentioned this, but I will say it again as it is really important: know your limits! One day you will maybe be able to study for 10 hours and the next day you’ll study for “only” 2. Both are very okay! It is important to know when your body is telling you “Hey, I’m done for today, let’s do something else!”. On the other hand, don’t give in so easily. Just because you can’t focus now, doesn’t always mean you are done for the day. Have a 20-minute break and try again.

Lastly, it is important to know that learning how to learn is a hard process that takes time and effort. So, if one method doesn’t work, try another one! And another one. And another one after that. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find what works for you.