Exam stress is a huge burden for students to carry. (Source: Getty Images)
Exam time is here, and inevitably, many students start experiencing a general sense of overwhelm and feeling out of control as there is so much to do. As I work with young people, I have been really curious and fascinated by how they manage their stress, learn and master the art of taking exams. Therefore, over the years I have picked up some pretty cool tricks and simple strategies that are in getting you to de-stress and start ROCKING (acronym that you can remember without straining your already overloaded memory).
Reach your 'sweet spot'
Think of the time when you remember yourself “being in the zone” – where your mind was calm, focused and you could get a lot done. Where were you sitting, what time of the day was it, and what helped you to be in a state of flow? For each person it is different – some like to study in a quiet space like a library and yet others who prefer more hustle bustle. Some feel their brain works best early morning and some late at night. I met a young person who could not study in a cluttered room and another who had to keep moving from room to room for different subjects to shift gears. Whatever rocks your boat and gets your brain buzzing but make sure that you manage to get good sleep, eat healthy food and get some exercise. A tired and exhausted mind and body can come in the way of finding your “sweet spot”.
Most smart learners know how important it is to pace themselves as much as possible, do practice tests, and use the 3R approach (read, recall, revise) to minimise forgetting. And most importantly, understand your learning style. If you are a visual learner, then you might learn best by writing notes, highlighting, making colourful mind maps on flip charts, relevant information on whiteboards, watching videos on Khan Academy. Auditory learners like to read aloud, teach others, brainstorm different concepts, use drama, role-plays and make silly songs to help you get a deeper understanding of your subjects. Kinaesthetic learners might like to walk around, play with a ball, use fidgets, chew gum or do anything as long as there is some level of movement. Sometimes a mix of three can ramp up your learning.
Change the channel
Now you might be thinking, “All this is well and good, but I am so stressed out that I can’t get myself to study." Our brains are little tricksters, and when it senses some danger (in this situation exams) it goes on overdrive with “I am going to mess up!” “My parents will be so disappointed!” On and on it goes like a radio, at times silent, at times softly murmuring and many times broadcasting in a loud voice. It is tough to study when the radio of negativity is blaring. I have a simple yet effective trick that I have learned from children, and it is as easy as ABC:
Alert: Be aware of this radio of negativity and as soon as it starts, just label it (radio of negativity), and you will see the volume go down.
Breathe out: Imagine you have a feather on your palm, in front of your face. Now breathe out forcefully to blow it away. Then, take a deep breath in. Do it a few times till you feel your body and mind relaxing.
Change the channel: Change the channel of this radio by getting up (movement is essential) and doing something to distract yourself. Go for a short walk, make a snack for yourself or do a quick dance to your favourite number.
Keep the PQ
Now you might have heard of IQ (intelligence quotient), but you might be wondering what PQ is. Well, it stands for playfulness quotient (I have cooked this up myself) which is all about how funny, crazy, whacky you can get, and I believe it is much more important than IQ. All Harry Potter fans know that Riddikulus is a spell used against Boggarts. A Boggart is a shape-shifter that feeds on fear, and is defeated by humour and laughter. To get rid of it, the caster has to think of something outrageously funny and ridiculous. For example, a young girl I met shared with me that every time she senses exam stress around, she turns it into a shrieking frisbee and tosses it far away.
Do you know that Michael Phelps, holder of the all-time world record for maximum gold medals in Olympics, believes that one reason for his success is visualisation? A lot of research has helped us understand that visualisation is very powerful in priming and preparing our brain. Every morning when you get up, try visualising how you would like your day to go. If you get a little panicky on the day of the exam, just visualise how you would stay calm and confident on that day. The trick is to make it as detailed as possible so that the brain can hold on to the vision and then it will go all out to make sure that you stay on track.
No to distractions and procrastination
This one is a tough one as we are surrounded by distractions, the biggest one, of course, being our gadgets and social media. Studying can seem so dull compared to chatting to friends on WhatsApp, checking the latest feeds on Instagram or bingeing on Netflix. I use ‘distance and delay’; for example, while writing this column, I put my laptop on the WiFi-off mode and kept my phone in another room. The best procrastination buster is to break the task into brick by brick or what I call ‘15 minutes rule’. Suppose you have been procrastinating studying Chemistry then maybe the first brick would be just telling yourself that you would study it for 15 minutes and then move to another subject. It will cut down the inertia and possibly make it easier for you to come back to it next time.
At times constant churning out of the radio of negativity can be nerve-racking, so you need a quick grounding exercise to get you out of your head and into your body. You start with a deep breath and then label 5 things in the room that you can see (lamp, book, window etc.), 4 things that you can touch (go ahead and touch them), 3 things that you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing that you can taste. I would also suggest short five to three minutes of guided meditation on apps like Calm or Headspace.
Despite all the fuss made about exams, remember they do not define you or the rest of your life. Adults might like to tell you otherwise, but it is their radio of stress speaking. So do not take it personally. All the best for your exams and make sure you keep ROCKING!