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How NOT to Cope with Exam Stress

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Got exams coming up? A little exam stress is inevitable, but make sure you don't fall into any of these traps:

Ignoring it

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Some people’s response to exam stress seems to be to carry on (la-di-da-di-daaaa) just as normal. Great in the short term – no revision, no late nights at the library, no worries! But (unless you’re actually able to reverse time) this ‘strategy’ does have an obvious downside when exam day rolls up and you haven’t prepared at all!

Are you an ‘ignorer’? If you answered yes, well done. The first stage is to admit this to yourself. Now stop ignoring and get revising!

Blaming yourself 

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At the other end of the spectrum are those who respond to exam stress by constantly giving themselves a hard time. “I’m not doing enough, I haven’t stuck to my schedule, I’m never going to do well at this rate...”

Sound familiar? I bet it does – we’ve probably all done this at some point. To an extent, a little self-chivvying can be helpful – helping you stay disciplined. But too much negativity is likely to be demotivating, and sap your energy levels. Give yourself a break!

Setting unrealistic targets

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This brings us to the next point... You’re not super-human! Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting goals that you’re never going to meet. Covering ten revision topics in one day was never going to be achievable – be realistic with your targets!

Cutting out fun treats and study breaks

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Another common response is revision ‘lock-down’, focusing all your time and energies exclusively on the impending exam. This may seem reasonable – after all, if it’s so important, it makes sense to give it your all.

However, just like too much self-criticism, this is likely to backfire. Taking time out and doing the things you enjoy is absolutely essential to give your brain time to rest and digest information – and will boost your energy levels too.

Drinking too much caffeine

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Lots of people instinctively reach for extra coffee, cola, or energy drink - thinking that the extra boost will give them a head start. This might help you stay awake an extra hour or so, but it won't do you much good in the long term!

Instead, make sure you stick to a balanced diet, full of slow-burning-energy foods (like pasta, wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables), drink lots of water to keep your brain hydrated, and try to get plenty of sleep.

This article was originally published in February 2013 and was updated in May 2017.

 

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including How Do Students Use Rankings?
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