Beating exam stress in 6 easy steps

Nip it in the bud before it seeps into your daily life

- November 19, 2013

Fruit and veg: The ultimate brain food to help you through stressful times.
Fruit and veg: The ultimate brain food to help you through stressful times.

Everyone gets stressed at some point. But how much do you let stress seep into your daily life and overall well-being? And do you realize it can affect your academic performance?

Results from the 2013 National College Health Assessment survey show that within the last 12 months, Dalhousie students reported the top factors affecting academic performance were stress (34.7%), anxiety (25.4%) and sleep difficulties (24.4%).

The survey defined "affecting academic performance" as receiving a lower grade on an exam or an important project; a lower grade in a course; an incomplete or dropped course; or experienced a significant disruption in thesis dissertation, research or practicum work.

As university students, having heaps of work is the norm — especially at this time of year with exams right around the corner. But there are ways to take control and prevent ourselves from getting stressed out. Derrick Enslow, Dal’s program manager of student health promotion, has six helpful tips:

  1. Organize yourself. Make sure you have everything you need, including lecture notes, books, and a good set of highlighters. Organize what you need to study in chunks rather than becoming overwhelmed by one large mass of information.

  2. Make a plan and stick to it. Set goals and manage your time accordingly. Work backwards from the due date of the exam/final paper and plan exactly when and how much time you’re going to devote to studying. Cramming the night before only skyrockets stress.

  3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Give yourself time to prepare healthy meals that contain lots of protein, vitamins, essential nutrients and good carbohydrates (“brain food” from fruits and vegetables). If you don’t have time to prepare a meal, make the healthy choice. A slice of pizza may be cheap, but you know you’ll feel better after a salad stacked with bright veggies. Exercise and a healthy sleep pattern are also important.

  4. Relax and take breaks. You need to remember to step away from studying once in a while to refresh and re-energize. Go for a brisk walk; cook your favourite dish; jam out to your favourite song; take a hot shower/bath; hang with your friends/roomies; or go to a yoga class.

  5. Think positive. You don’t need to be perfect (because, really, no one is). Instead, concentrate on your strengths and what you know well first to build up your confidence when tackling more difficult topics.

  6. Consider seeking help. Dal’s Counselling Services offers one-on-one and group counselling sessions, and plenty of workshops that can help you overcome stress and anxiety (including Coping with Exam Anxiety). If you’re not in Halifax, or don’t feel comfortable meeting with someone in person, try the free, online self-help SHIFT Program. The program consists of modules you work through at your own pace, and involves regular contact with program coaches.


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