How to de-stress and ace those tests
The most stressful times for college students come during the weeks leading up to and during midterms and finals. The piles of materials to study and prepare never seem to get smaller, do they?
According to a 2016 survey by MentalHelp.net and reported by MentalFloss, 31 percent of stressed students cite finals or midterms as their biggest stressors. About 16 to 20 percent of students deal with high test anxiety as well, according to the American Test Anxieties Association.
We understand there’s stress, and we want to help.
How can you prepare for those big tests and limit common stressors? And after you’re done with the tests, how can you decompress while waiting for the scores to come in? Hopefully this guide gives you some answers.
Early bird gets the A
We can’t stress this one enough — no pun intended. Preparing your mind far in advance of a test can make a big difference in how confident — and, in turn, less stressed — you feel going into an exam. Give yourself at least a few weeks to hit the books and study. For a busy and hectic week like finals or midterms, this tip is even more important. There’s a lot of material to study, so the earlier you start, the better you’ll feel.
Many students choose to cram before a test, hoping the last-minute effort will help them retain as much knowledge as possible. But that’s not the case. Studies have actually shown this method to be counterproductive, often because cramming cuts into sleep. Sleeping is one of the most important factors in getting your mind and body right.
“Plan for seven or eight hours per night because you aren’t setting yourself up for success if you’re exhausted,” said Kim Bock, associate director of academic advising at the University of Northern Iowa. “You need to be equipping yourself with the best tools.”
While you don’t want to start your studying too early — you’ll run the risk of forgetting what you’ve learned — you can find a happy medium. Study 15 minutes to an hour a few weeks before the test; then, as the date comes closer, spend more time on the material most confusing to you. Pacing yourself will allow you to properly absorb the material and relax.
“Put together a good plan for studying,” Bock said. “Preparing a few weeks in advance will make sure you chunk up your time and avoid cramming everything in before tests. Give yourself time to work on projects and give your full attention to that.”
Run, Forrest, run!
You can build up a lot of nervous energy and stress when cooped up in a study space or dorm room. During a study break, go for a run or bike to a new study spot to let the energy out. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your studies, doing something as simple as jumping jacks for a few minutes or 10 pushups can get the heart pumping and the blood flowing.
“Take breaks. You can’t study 24/7,” Bock said. “When you’re asking students to take a break and step away from studying, exercising is a great way to reset their mind. Even if it’s a five- to 15-minute walk.”
And exercise isn’t just for de-stressing. According to various studies, regular exercise can help memory retention. Even a simple 30-minute cardio session can deliver more blood to your brain and help it perform at its best.
Eat right. Do right.
A balanced diet during the week leading up to a test can help improve results, particularly if you cut out certain types of fat found in red meats and butter. According to a Harvard Health article, a study found that people who ate diets high in saturated fats and trans fats performed worse on tests than those who ate lesser amounts of those fats.
The same article cites mono- and polyunsaturated fats as the so-called super nutrients when it comes to memory and retention. These fats can be found in olive oil, fish and nuts. If you want to take a study break and have a snack, crack open a jar of peanuts or almonds, or choose a fruit or vegetable.
Prepare to win
On the night or morning before your big test, make sure you have all of the tools you’ll need. Pack extra pencils, papers, pens or whatever materials are necessary. If you’re writing an essay, run to the bookstore the day before to ensure you have a “blue book” in hand. Your mind should be focused the test, not asking the student in front of you for an extra pencil.
Eat a meal high in carbs and fiber before an exam, like oatmeal for breakfast or fruits and veggies for lunch and dinner. These foods can help you feel full for a longer time, so you don’t get the annoying stomach growl while you’re trying to work through a difficult finance problem.
When you enter the exam room, take a deep breath and have confidence in yourself. It’s definitely a cliche, but believing in yourself is the first step in achieving something.
Now … take a breather
Your test is done, but that doesn’t mean the stress is gone.
Now comes the waiting game for your grade. Just remember this process is out of your control, so there isn’t anything you can do. Take a deep breath and reward yourself. Go eat at your favorite spot, watch a movie you’ve been dying to see or buy something new — and affordable, of course. You deserve to treat yourself after the hard work you’ve put in.
Resist the temptation to go back to your notes and see what mistakes you’ve made. Grab a few of your friends and hang out. Chances are, they will help you relax better than you can yourself.
Before you look at your test score, remember to maintain composure. If you followed the above steps and prepared properly, you did the best you could.
If you earned a good grade, congratulations! If you didn’t do so hot, remember that one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. We all have bad days or make mistakes. Use it as a learning experience. Take a look at your studying or academic habits to find out where you can improve for the next big test.