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How to beat exam stress

At finals time, turn anxiety into action with these 6 tried-and-true techniques
April 19, 2018
By Sarah Buck and Tom Peacock


With exams under way, it’s likely you’re experiencing more stress and anxiety than usual. This is completely normal.

Here are six effective ways to manage this hectic time.

1. Shake it

Exercise helps alleviate stress. The main problem, according to Richard DeMont, associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science, is that people who are busy studying don’t make the time to do it.

But DeMont, who’s also an athletic therapist, says you don’t have to be a varsity athlete, or even a regular at Le Gym, to experience the benefits. A 15-minute walk a couple of times a day is enough.

“Do a quick loop around the campus,” he says. "It can increase blood flow, relieve excitable energy and help you focus."

2. Take a break

You may feel like you need to study for as many hours as humanly possible, but at a certain point this all-in approach becomes counterproductive.

Elaine Ransom-Hodges, a learning specialist at the Student Success Centre, points out that sitting still for long periods lowers brain activity. “You see people sleeping in the library all the time,” she says. “They’ve been sitting for too long without getting up and moving … What the body really wants to do is work that stress out.”

Schedule in short breaks: chat with friends, grab a coffee or go up and down a flight of stairs. Kick-start that brain.

3. Think of the big picture

“Spirituality is about nurturing yourself,” says Reverend Ellie Hummel, coordinator and chaplain of the Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre. She adds that it’s important to avoid tunnel vision at exam time.

"Every day, we are surrounded by opportunities to do just that. Close your eyes and take three big breaths before you open your exam book. When you walk from the EV Building to the Hall Building, look up at the blue sky and the clouds, or watch a snowflake fall. Find something that makes you smile: a cool hat, an ad on a bus, another smiling person. Look at a tree and listen to the birds. They are here, all around you."

4. Be prepared

It’s never good to get too worked up, but Ransom-Hodges says a little anxiety can actually serve as a valuable warning sign that it’s time to make a study plan and set some realistic goals.

The best way to avoid exam stress is to know what’s expected of you. Do you know what’s going to be covered? Have you caught up on the lectures you missed? Are your notes in order?

If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your professor. Focus on your trouble spots. And once you’re ready to start studying, make a schedule that takes into account the different demands of each subject.

“If you are struggling with unexplained exam anxiety, you can conquer it by developing better study habits and time management skills during the term,” Ransom-Hodges says. “Learning specialists are there to work with students proactively, one on one, to take a look at how they can improve their study skills, time management and academic performance.”

Check out these 13 essential tips for exam success.

5. Find a nook

You’ve got all your material together and you’ve freed up your schedule. Now it’s time to find somewhere you can focus on learning what you need to succeed.

Maybe it’s your favourite coffee shop, or maybe it’s the quietest corner of the library — whatever works. If you don’t already have a spot in mind, take a look at these 80 superb study spots.

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6. Don’t go it alone

Still feeling overwhelmed? Talk to someone. Student mentors can offer a caring ear and point you to support services at Concordia; tutors and learning specialists can help you overcome academic hurdles; and a counsellor can assist you with personal issues.

Remember that anxiety can be tied to other health problems, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to talk to a professional, don’t hesitate to visit Counselling and Psychological Services or Health Services, and check out this comprehensive online guide to managing stress.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a disability, including mental health conditions, the Concordia Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers a range of support, including an accommodated exam-writing service on both campuses. Contact the centre for more information.

Need a quiet nook to hit the books? Check out these 80 superb Concordia study spots.

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