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20 September 2021

Do exams make you anxious? Try these tips to manage your nerves

Sitting an exam isn’t something most people enjoy, and the exam period is often one of the most stressful times of the trimester. Do you put pressure on yourself to achieve good marks and meet high personal or family expectations? We’re here to help you through it!

The first thing to do is ensure you understand how exams are working this study period and the requirements for your units. The exam period runs from Monday 11 to Friday 22 October, so read our guide to T2/S2 final assessments for all you need to know. 

Once you’re familiar with the academic side of things, you may still need to calm those pesky nerves. Luckily, there’s some tried and tested ways to relax your mind, turn stressors into a strength and get in the exam zone.

Tick iconKeep active

You may have heard of endorphins – chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, along with dopamine, which helps you to stay motivated, and serotonin, a hormone that helps to make you feel good.

So if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by pre-exam stress, or you’re unable to focus after hours of reading, exercise is one of the simplest things you can do to stay positive. Even 15–30 minutes of exercise is useful, so remember to include some ‘active time’ in your study routine (subject to current COVID restrictions, of course).

Tick iconReframe unhelpful thoughts

Are you someone who puts a lot of pressure on yourself to achieve a certain grade? We know that sitting an exam can seem daunting, but it’s important to remember that exams aren’t designed to trick you or catch you out. Focusing on negative self-talk like ‘I’m underprepared’ or ‘My life will be ruined if I fail’ can increases stress and anxiety, and significantly affect exam performance.

Try to reframe your thoughts by focusing on your abilities and setting realistic expectations for your exams. Think of your exam as an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge. If you still need some guidance to manage your self-talk, discover how to tame your inner critic.

Tick iconUse SMART goals

Sometimes you might feel so overwhelmed by exam preparation that you don’t know where to start at all, and you find yourself procrastinating instead. To make an important task feel more achievable and increase your chance of success, try setting SMART goals for yourself that are:

Tick iconBe kind to yourself

Don’t let studying for exams consume every waking hour – you still need to make time for the things you love. Prioritising other areas of your life besides study will allow you to be your best, energised and most happy self, so that you can prepare for exams in a productive and effective way.

While ongoing restrictions are again making regular social activities difficult, you should still do something for yourself every day. Treat yourself for all of your hard work, make sure to find some balance and don’t wait until your exams are over to do it.

Tick iconBreathe for calmness

Deep breathing is a simple and effective way to help you feel calm, and manage stress and anxiety. Try taking a few deep breaths whenever you begin to notice your stress levels rising, such as while you’re studying or as you wait to begin your exam.

To slow down your breathing, inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of six. When you lengthen your exhalations to be longer than your inhalations, your body begins to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn will calm you down.

Focusing on something as simple as breathing helps to quieten those racing thoughts by acting as a temporary and soothing distraction. Use apps such as Smiling Mind to find additional breathing exercises to help you relax, or use mindfulness as a guide.

Tick iconTalk with someone

While all of these strategies can collectively help you to manage stress during exam time, if anxiety is an ongoing challenge please confide in a family member, friend or counsellor about how you’re feeling. Seeking support will remind you that you’re not alone and may lighten some of that pressure.

Our Counselling and Psychological Support (CAPS) team offers free and confidential support to Deakin students located in Australia from highly skilled psychologists and social workers. Book online to have a real-time telehealth appointment.

You may also find Ask Counselling helpful. This online resource from Deakin’s CAPS team gives students advice on emotional and psychological issues. You can either browse existing questions and answers, or post your own anonymous question for a personalised reply.

And don’t miss DUSA Wellness Week …

You should also check out DUSA Wellness Week, which is a series of events to help you de-stress, take a breather and re-focus on your self-care in the lead-up to exams.

Running all week until Friday 24 September, you can take your pick of activities – from a Joyfulness Workshop or daily meditation, yoga, pilates and office exercises to Virtual Drag Queen Trivia or a Paint Workshop!

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