Monday, 4 June 2018

How to deal with exam stress.

This time of the year is extremely tough and stressful for every learner. Don’t let stress get the better of you.

Stress has been the cause of health problems, anxiety and failed tests for decades – or so it may seem.  Today we want to change the way you view stress for the rest of your life!  Even though stress can feel paralysing or even make you feel sick, stress can actually activate strength in you. 

The key is to find the optimal amount of stress to perform our best and understand that we should change the way we think about stress.

Find the optimal amount of stress.

When you feel stressed for a test you can either feel overwhelmed, motivated or paralysed.  These three emotions has a direct effect on the outcome on your test.  Scientists, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, conducted a study of the effect of stress on your performance.  The results is best described through a visual representation in terms of a graph.  On this graph, the x axis represents the amount of stress you experience, while the y axis shows your performance level (how well you do).  

The relationship between stress and performance results in a bell curve.  In the section marked “A” the stress is low and performance is low too.  This indicates where there is no stress before a challenging event you lack focus and motivation to work hard.  Section B and C is your optimal performance with moderate to high stress.  This is where you feel motivated to work hard, adrenalin is pumping and you prepare your best to meet the challenge.  Lastly section D shows extreme stress correlates with low performance.  When your stress is too high you become preoccupied with the stress itself and it gets the better of you, for example lack of sleep, anxiety or feeling like you “blanked out”.

When you find the optimal amount of stress you will feel inspired, motivated and determined to succeed.

So how do you get the optimal amount of stress?  

  • Practise under exam circumstances and get used to the feeling of exam stress under controlled environments.  You can do this by using ASP School Project’s Exam Papers and Answers.
  • Prepare in advance for your test so that the workload doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on you.
  • Don’t cram your study work so that you feel confused and flustered when writing the exam.
  • Minimise stress not related to the exam.  For example, if you have an important test or exam coming up, don’t put yourself under more pressure for a different activity that produces stress.  You should also eliminate stressful factors like fights or arguments with friends, stress surrounding your household or stressful social situations.  For that week of your exam, try to focus only on your exam.
  • Find relaxation techniques to calm yourself down when you’ve gone over your optimal performance stress level.

Change the way you think about stress.

Even after seeing this graph and understanding your optimal stress level, you might still be terrified of the word “stress”.  However, the way you think about stress can actually boost your performance even more!

Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist from Stanford University who studies the relationship between your health and stress.  She claims that a shift in the way you view stress will improve your life experience, happiness and health.  “When you change your mind about stress you can change your body’s response to stress.”

During a test, have you ever experienced symptoms of stress, such as an increased heart rate, breathing faster or even breaking out in a little sweat?  We have all been there!  We have all experienced anxiety and stress over exams and pressure.  However, McGonigal makes a new suggestion: “What if you view these signs as a way that your body is energised and preparing you to meet this challenge.”  

In other words you can view your stress response as helpful.  Your pounding heart is preparing you for action.  Increased breathing is sending more oxygen to your brain so that you can make decisions quicker and more accurate.  When you view stress as a helpful tool to increase your performance, your blood vessels don’t close up, but stay relaxed even though your heart might be pounding faster.  This is simply your body rising to meet the challenge.  This is your mind and body being courageous.

We want to encourage you to view stress an advantage during exams.  Change the way you view stress and find your optimal amount of stress where you can perform at your best.  Remember “A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.” ~ Unknown.  So handle your stress, ace your exams and become that diamond!

Share this article with friends if you know they have been have been dealing with stress.  Let us know what other techniques you use to perform your best!

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