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Techniques to reduce exam stress


The leaving certificate is just around the corner, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed when you think of how this exam could determine your future.  A certain amount of stress is necessary to motivate you, but too much can cause a reduction in clarity and memory. However, there are various techniques which can help to alleviate you from some of the stress of the next few weeks.

  • Time table – Create a schedule to organise your study sessions.
  • Organise your notes and books before you start studying.  Organisation is key to maintaining a level head.
  • Exercise for between 30 minutes to 1 hour a day as this will help to boost your serotonin levels and sharpen your mind.
  • Sleep – try and get 7 to 8 hours sleep per night as this will do wonders for mind and body.  If you are having trouble sleeping, listening to a guided meditation can help you to drop off.
  • Lemon, or Lemongrass oil – Burning Lemongrass or Lemon oil in your room can help your concentration and memory.
  • Comedies – Take a few minutes out of your study schedule to watch a comedy.  Laughing has been scientifically proven to reduce stress.
  • Chamomile and Rooibos tea are  helpful for decreasing cortisol levels
  • Turkey has tryptophan in it which calms the nervous system
  • Tumeric tastes delicious and is very good for stimulating the memory
  • Spinach contains magnesium which relaxes the nerves
  • Blueberries are beneficial for cognitive functioning.
  • Avocados- This fruit is excellent for the brain.  It contains omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E and monounsaturated fat which improve the blood supply to the brain, improving oxygen and essential nutrients. 
  • Fish – Salmon, sardines and mackerel are high in omega 3 which increases brain function.
  • Nuts – Brazil nuts, almonds and walnuts are good forms of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
  • Water is essential to rehydrate you because dehydration can cause fatigue.
  • Avoid sugar as it will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall which can cause moodiness and tiredness. If you are craving sugar then have a few squares of dark chocolate as it is lower in sugar then milk chocolate, and the flavonols in it stimulate your memory and your mood.
  • Caffeine – try and reduce your tea/coffee and cola intake if you can, because like sugar, it can cause highs and lows in energy and it is also a diuretic, so you don’t want to be bursting for the toilet in the middle of an exam!

Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Patrick Ryan, who is Head of Psychology at the University of Limerick says creating a structured study plan is essential for feeling calm and in control. He says “Stressors like exams create different responses in different people. But we are able to control and influence our response to stress”.”Many students try to design a grand plan but at this stage the effort needs to go into doing,” he says. “Stop delaying, stop obsessing, just get down and do it.””Don’t copy the way others study but work out, in the time left, what will work best for you”.”Are you someone who works best in very short periods of intense study or in longer, more sustained periods of effort?”Recall a time when you have learned something very easily and very well.

Ask yourself what made that happen and replicate it.” “Where possible and useful, work in small groups and share the learning load,” “Recognise that this work is task-orientated, peer-learning, peer-teaching and peer-support.”

Betty McLaughlin, President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors says “Good preparation is about managing time and emotions and organising the big things – it all helps keep you calm.” “This keeps things in perspective and helps you avoid catastrophic thinking because you know what’s ahead and you’re in control”.

It is advisable to talk to your family and friends about your worries, because not expressing yourself and isolating yourself can lead to more anxiety.  It is also important to try and have a positive outlook.  Try and avoid negative people and negative topics of conversation. Ms McLaughlin says “If you know that certain people wind you up, this is a good time to avoid them. Instead, surround yourself with people who are calm and who, thereby, help you to remain calm too.”

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