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Fight or flight

June 1, 2022 by Kelly Kendall-Jones

Fight or flight

You’ve made it through another semester (where did that go?), and now you’ve got exams looming. I have yet to meet anyone, anywhere, of any age, ever, who looks forward to sitting exams. If your anxiety levels are already rising at the mere thought of what lies ahead, take heart – you’re not alone!

While there is no magic formula for cruising through the exam process worry-free, there are things you can do to minimise your angst and maximise your preparation and performance. This starts with understanding what stress is and how it affects us.

Stress occurs when your body perceives something as a threat to your safety and wellbeing. Your body’s automatic stress response is one of ‘fight or flight’ and to release adrenaline. The problem is your stress response isn’t very good at distinguishing if the threat is actually life-threatening or more of a perceived threat.

One trick is to try to re-frame how you view stress. Instead of perceiving exam stress as a negative thing, work towards seeing exams as a challenge. While a challenge may still be anticipated with a degree of trepidation, it can also bring anticipation and motivation. Take elite athletes as an example, they’ve learned to channel their stress response to fuel their performance. Embrace the stress…who knew?

While re-framing your mind-set might take some practice, there are some immediate actions you can take to stress less during exams:

  1. Take time to plan. Devise a study plan which considers your exam timetable. This means articulating your goals for each day, trying to be as specific as possible with what you need/want to achieve. Try to balance this with other meaningful things in your life – reducing your shifts at work for example – that way your plan will be easier to stick to.
  2. Stay focused. Think about when and where you’re most productive. If you work best first thing in the morning, your study plan should reflect this. Plan to study in an environment that will help you stay focused. It might be in the library, so you won’t have the distractions of home. Or you might focus best in your own space, listening to your favourite music.
    The aim here is to reach a ‘state of flow’ where you become so engrossed in your studies that everything else around you simply becomes ‘white noise’. This, of course, means putting your phone on silent so you’re not lured into checking it during your allocated study time.
  3. Be prepared. Use previous exams papers to get a feel for what to expect. Write things that you struggle to remember in coloured pens – it might help jog your memory on the day. Ask a friend or family member to quiz you on content or teach someone else about a theory. While cramming at the last minute isn’t recommended, you should study a subject within 24 hours of the exam to retain more info.
  4. Look after yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, doing some exercise each day, taking time out for what you enjoy and reaching out to friends and family for extra support if you need – it does make a difference!

If you still need more convincing, check out science guys Greg and Mitch on proven ways to help beat exam anxiety! I guarantee it will both make you smile and help you feel a little bit better in the lead up to doomsday, I mean, exam day.

From the Careers team, best of luck – we know you can do this!

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