Teaching Resources

Six ways to help students manage exam pressure

With more and more pressure on our students to perform, knowing how to deal with the pressure of exams is essential for wellbeing and success.

Why stress is good
Experiencing stress before exams is a good thing! Stress causes adrenaline to pump and allows us to work longer hours and stay on task more. A 2013 study from Daniela Kaufer and Elizabeth Kirby at the University of California, Berkeley, found that small does of stress can propel us forward and enable us to meet a challenge. As a time frame gets close so the stress rises. This is natural and managing it is important. Too much stres can have a negative effect on the memory. Of course memory is essential in an exam – ultimately students are required to remember what they have learned and to apply their knowledge to answer the questions.

Ideas for your students in the weeks before the exams –

Make a plan
Do not leave it to chance. Encourage students to draw up a timetable and stick to it. Place the important features in first. These include meal times, sports practice, church and so on, and then add the study time around these. If they can, they may wish to reduce their out of school activities for the weeks leading up to the exams and devote more time to studying.

Learn what you don’t know
Of all the tips, the most important is that students should spend the last few weeks learning information that they don’t know. Going over what is known is a waste of time; it might make them feel good, however learning is learning what they don’t know.

Pull out old tests, assignments, practice exam papers and learn the questions they got wrong. This sounds simple, however it can be very challenging and is the most important tip.

Encourage students to ask for help and clarify confusions. Use Google to find other teachers’ lessons or search for study notes online.

Study in small segments
Rather than working for long periods, it is better for your students to study for 20 minutes and then take a five-minute break. This is especially useful if motivation is lacking or the content is difficult. During the break times, students should leave the room so their brains recognise they are resting. They may choose to stretch, get some fresh air, do a few star jumps, eat some brain food, drink a glass or water or quickly check their social networking sites. To help them stay on track, they can download iStudyAlarm, available for all smart phones.

Eat well
Just as an athlete prepares for the big game or race, eating well in the weeks before exams is imperative. Eating breakfast each day will help minimise the bad stress. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than big meals that take a huge amount of energy to digest. Decrease intake of sugar and caffeine, and increase water consumption. Research shows that eating an apple gives longer sustained focus than a cup of coffee.

To manage high stress levels, do something each day to relax. It may be as simple as ten long, slow breaths two to three times a day, some slow stretching, gentle swimming or jogging, meditation, yoga or any activity that helps the brain unwind and relax. Avoid screen time when relaxing as the changing images on the screen often cause the brain to go into a fight/flight state of high alert.

Focus on the goal
The weeks before the exam are such a short time in the grand scheme of life so invite students to focus on the big picture, the reason they are sitting the exams – to get ahead in life. A helpful activity is for them to visualise themselves being successful in their exams.

For your free 27 Study Tips poster, please email [email protected]

Karen Boyes is an expert in effective teaching and learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. She was awarded the NSANZ Educator of the Year 2014 award and works in schools throughout Australasia teaching students how to Study Smart and teachers how to raise achievement.

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Meaghan Voget
Meaghan Voget
7 years ago

Great tips.

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