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Strategies for managing exam stress

It’s that time of semester again and we all know that the exam period can be super stressful for many of us! Even though we know it’s coming and we have the best of intentions things often begin to unravel at the end of semester. It helps to have a plan and a reminder of some of the simplest things you can do to set yourself up for success:

Check in with yourself

Often we forget to really notice what’s going on for us. Stress can manifest in all sorts of ways but these are some common signs:

  • Feeling confused
  • Losing touch with friends
  • Feeling moody
  • Having trouble making decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lacking motivation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach, or feeling sick
  • Tense muscles and headaches
  • So how can you minimise the impact of stress when trying to prepare for exams and assessments?

    Get into a healthy routine

    It may seem like a good idea to pull an all-nighter but lack of sleep has a significant impact on your mood and energy levels. It’s hard to focus on revision when you’re sleep-deprived and your body starts to crave all sorts of things like caffeine! Try to aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night and also make time to enjoy other activities like spending time with friends and family. Balance is the key!

    Set realistic goals

    Make a plan and divide your tasks into realistic goals with a reasonable timeframe. It can help to break each unit into sub-topics to focus on in one study session. Chunk your time down to 30-minute sessions so that you can see what your priorities really are. Make sure you allocate time for breaks as well as food and sleep! Seeing a plan in front of you can also help you stay on track so try printing it out or add it to your screen background.

    Look after your body

    We all know that nutrition plays a huge part in our wellbeing but when we feel stressed it’s easy to reach for something quick and easy. Unfortunately highly processed food and fast-release carbs can make you feel sluggish and unmotivated after the initial food high. Surround yourself with healthy snacks (fruit, nuts, energy bars, healthy smoothies, eggs etc) and try to plan your main meals during the entire study period. Drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to give yourself the energy you need to power through this intense time!

    Look after your mind

    When you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed it helps to just stop and re-set. Take some time to close your eyes and just focus on your breathing for a few minutes. By calming down your breathing you can decrease your body’s response to stress and give yourself a new perspective. It’s also important to find time to exercise. Just moving your body for 30 minutes a day can increase your energy, focus, and boost your endorphins! You don’t have to fit in a full gym workout – just a walk will do.

    Balancing study with everything that’s going on can be a real challenge. Just remember that it’s only for a short time and there is always someone at QUT that can support you. There are also plenty of useful resources available!

    Preparing for short answer exam questions

    Short answer questions test your recall of information and ability to apply knowledge. This requires an active approach to revision as it’s not enough just to ‘know’ the content. It’s really important to activate your knowledge by practising answers and testing your recall of information.

    You can make your exam preparation more effective by setting goals for each revision session and having strategies for the exam itself.

    Revision Sessions

    • Study in short blocks (no longer than 50 minutes)
    • Understand and memorise key terms, theories, concepts, and applications
    • Make concept maps to see how theories and concepts relate
    • Think about how to apply the theories and concepts to real world scenarios
    • Practise any relevant calculations or formula
    • Complete all questions from textbooks, online quizzes or tutorials
    • Make sure you access all practice questions and past exam papers
    • Develop and answer your own set of questions
    • Work with a study buddy to test and motivate each other

    Exam Strategies

    • Carefully check the marks allocated for each question
    • Make a quick plan for how long you can spend on each section
    • If a question is worth 10% of the marks, then it deserves 10% of exam time
    • Plan to have some time at the end to check your answers
    Read the instructions carefully and note if you need to use full sentences or paragraphs
    • Answer questions you are most confident about first
    • Make sure that you are addressing the question and not going off track
    • If you run out of time, make sure you at least write something for each remaining question

    It can be tempting to keep pushing yourself during revision but if your concentration level starts to slip, it’s much better to take a break and start again when you are more alert.
    If you’re keen to learn more about exam prep and different types of assessment at QUT check out our online resources.

    And above all, a positive, calm mindset will go a long way to exam success!!