Thursday, January 21, 2010

Understanding & Managing Examination Stress

(Tips) Understanding & Managing Examination Stress : Part - 1

Following a healthy lifestyle, inculcating regular study habits and management of time are some of the strategies to prevent and manage examination stress.


  • There exists a strong relationship between nutrient intake and the mental state of a person.
  • Stress and anxiety leads to inadequate and wrong eating habits which disturbs delicate biochemical balances in the body thus causing micronutrient deficiency.
  • The right foods can help your levels of concentration, ensure that you sleep more soundly and lower your anxiety level.
  • In one of the recent studies conducted by National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, it has been found that good nutrition ensures smooth functioning of the nervous system, which gets strained during examinations and makes children sharper. The study also points out that proper nutrition helps in managing examination stress and maintains alertness during examinations.

What to Eat and Drink

  • Well balanced diet, including health beverages may aid your child beat the examination blues. It boosts memory and improves concentration – all of which are associated with good academic performance.
  • Students should avoid drinks like tea and coffee which contain caffeine, which according to studies, lessens the process of grasping.
  • Instead, go for health drink fortified with micronutrients and vitamins, which according to NIN's Study helps relieve examination stress.
  • Appropriate fortified beverages consumption rich in fibre and micro-nutrients like vitamins and minerals help in giving children that extra edge while preparing for their examinations as they help not only to manage stress but also to improve concentration.
  • Foods rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals should be included in the diet. Ideally, whole grain cereals such as oatmeal containing soluble fibre and beta-glucan, pulses, nuts, milk and milk products, fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables and fortified health drink like Horlicks should be included in a day's diet.
  • Eating the wrong kind of food can make them sluggish or lead to infections all of which have a direct impact on their performance

Healthy eating habits

  • Balancing food choices over time is what counts..
  • Breakfast provides the energy needed through an active morning, skipping breakfast may cause trouble concentrating.
  • The golden rule for food safety is to keep hot foods hot & cold foods cold.
  • Fast foods do not supply good nutrition but if taken in moderation won't ruin a healthful diet, especially when consumed with green salads.
  • Replace French fries with an apple.
  • Add roughage to your diet – Dalia, Corn etc will help prevent stomach discomfort and you will feel lighter.
  • Drink plenty of water, it keeps the brain hydrated. A hydrated brain can remember more than a dehydrated brain. Of course do not go silly or else you will be spending all your time in the toilet.
Can a person improve his memory through use of certain drugs and medicines? This is a thought that lures many youngsters. Some pharmaceutical companies are marketing preparations that make such claims. The truth is that lack of certain nutrients in the food does affect one's receptivity of knowledge. A certain amount of tension builds up during the learning process. This tension can be controlled through a positive attitude and the use of mind medications that help users physically and psychologically.

However, rather than rely on drugs, the best option is to ensure a balanced diet with lots of green, leafy vegetables and fruits that supply the necessary vitamins and minerals. When one eats a balanced diet, there is no need for additional supplements.

Exercise and sports

  • One should always take a break amidst long hours study and should go for physical activities or exercise in form of sports.
  • This is because studying for long hours without a break is not very productive as after a certain period of time stress levels go up and concentration levels come down. Also, the mind gets defocused and hence the knowledge gained or the idea generated during that period doesn't sink in. Taking short breaks helps refocus. It gives time for relaxation, rejuvenation and assimilation.
  • Studying regularly for more than 50 minutes leads to receeding concentration levels. Sitting continuously at the study table for long hours is, therefore, a waste of both energy and time. In short, it is unproductive
  • The message is clear – "Take a break in the midst of study". However, these breaks should not be too long as they may then affect the tempo of studies. Taking a break and going for physical activities like sports for around 10-30 minutes after every 45-50 minutes of continuous study rejuvenates your body, mind and soul.
  • Physical Exercise and Sports help improve general circulation, facilitate increased blood flow to the brain, and are instrumental in raising the levels of norepinephrine and endorphins - all of which may reduce stress, improve mood, induce a calming effect, and perhaps as a result improve achievement.


  • Taking short breaks and maintain adequate sleep routine help you feel fresher for longer. This helps you learn more.
  • Try to leave enough time in your revision for some fun to stay in a good mood
  • A regular seven hours of sleep is mandatory for the body to function well.
  • Provided you remain alert and responsive, studying till late or getting up early is immaterial.
  • Try to do some muscular relaxation before bedtime.

Exercise and rejuvenation

Research shows that kids who play sports or who are physically active do better in school. It is advantageous to do exercise since regular exercise since it makes various organs of the body stronger. Through regular exercise heart muscles become stronger, there is an impact on the respiratory system as well. Digestion becomes efficient. Skin also gets a glow since the pores open up.

Consider the exercises that enable you to build skill related and health related fitness. Choose exercises that you enjoy so you'll have fun. If exercising is fun, you'll be more likely to stick with the program for life.. If you feel any significant pain while exercising, stop immediately. Consult your health care provider before resuming you exercise program.

Exercise to Enjoy

  • Walk or cycle 15 minutes a day at least thrice a week.
  • Swim or play any sport once a week
  • Go for a jog in the evening for 15 minutes thrice a week
  • Barriers to physical activity
  • Self-efficacy – 'I don't need it'.
  • Preference for indoor activities: TV electronic games & computers).
  • Low energy level: 'junk food' slows down desire for physical activity.
  • Low level of Motivation.
  • Time constraints.
  • Emphasis on academics - forced decrease in physical activity.


Study tips

Following tips can be useful and help to study effectively.

  1. Do not engage in sport or tire yourself before you sit either for a test or a study period. You should be relaxed before you engage in the task which requires thinking, concentration etc.
  2. Ensure that you are not hungry, sleepy, tired, thirsty and don't need to go to the toilet before you sit to study or give a test. This will make sure that there are no unnecessary interruptions.
  3. If you experience that while studying your mind is occupied by various thoughts, you can write whatever comes to your mind before you actually sit for study. This will help you to clear your mind of the thoughts and thus increase concentration. You may tear off the page after you have released the thoughts.
  4. Eat brain foods before you study or when you take a break during your study. Bananas, dry fruits, chocolates (in moderation) helps the brain to stay awake.
  5. In the break time, you can listen to music which relaxes your mind and body. In music stores, CDs of relaxation music are available.
  6. Graphic organizers are semantic maps which offer a visual representation of ideas. When students organize and design these maps, they apply important analytical skills as they think about how ideas are inter-related.

Time management

Managing your time effectively is an important part of studying. One common mistake is to try to create an overly restrictive schedule which doesn't work, and then feel very guilty that it doesn't work. Telling yourself that scheduling just doesn't work for you is another common mistake.

The following list will guide you through time management.

Schedule - Have a regular study time and place each day - This helps put you in study mode. It's what Pavlov did with his dogs. ("Good doggy. Now study! Studyyy...")

Prioritize - Make a list of what you have to do and list it in order of importance. Schedule the important stuff first.

Plan your sessions - Do the difficult stuff first. That way, by the time you can barely add 1 to 1, that's all you have left to do.

Prepare - Get everything you'll need together BEFORE you start studying.

Take breaks - Don't study longer than 50 minutes at a stretch. Use the other ten for a run around the block, or eat a snack. Hmm... Maybe run around the block AFTER the snack. Taking a 5-minute hot shower is another excellent solution.

Avoid getting stuck - If you can't figure something out, skip it, and get help later. Skipping everything is not allowed.

Divide and conquer - Break your projects up into smaller bits, and complete those bits one by one.

Set Milestones – Setting milestones help to manage the time and task better. You can also set rewards for reaching those milestones.

Reward yourself - The reward can be small, like treating yourself to some ice cream, or larger, like buying that new outfit you've had your eye on. Rewards also don't have to cost money, like going to play some basketball with some friends at the park. Enjoy yourself when you pass a milestone, stick to your reward plans to make them more worth reaching.

Use your time wisely - Use the days for tough activities like studying, and evenings for easier stuff like reviewing. On second thought, better schedule the latter during the day as well.

Review regularly – Regular reviewing benefits taking stock of the work done. We have said this before. It's important. Better read it again.

Say "No!" to distractions

Time management is an important component of an effective study habit. Individuals have their own ways of managing time. Three kinds of time tables can help you to plan your time efficiently:

  • A semester planner (this will enable you to map out tasks for the semester).
  • A weekly timetable (this will ensure that you structure your time in the short term while allowing flexibility).
  • A diary with daily 'things to do' (TTD) lists (these will keep you on track).

The semester planner

All study periods, examinations, assignment deadlines and other important dates (including major tasks and family/social commitments). Stick this up above your study desk. It gives you an overall view of the extra busy times, so you can organise around them.

The weekly timetable

You need copies of a blank weekly timetable in one-hour blocks. Put one above your desk and carry a small one with you. Fill in:

  • lectures and tutorials

  • Study-related tasks

  • domestic commitments

  • leisure/sport - this is very important.

Subject study time

Divide the rest of your time into subject study blocks. Some subjects may need more time than others. Even a half-hour block is valuable - though you'll need some longer ones (1½ - 2 hours) for each subject. But try to keep the times for each subject constant.

Develop blocks of study time

About 50 minutes with a 10 min. break. Each individual has a different attention span, so some individuals can also have an attention span of 30 minutes.

  • 1 hour Break after 2 study blocks are completed
  • Spend 6-8hrs daily prior to examinations

The 'things to do' or TTD list

This is a vital daily list. It should be included in a diary so you can carry it with you and shuffle things around when necessary. Remember, you should never start a study block without a clear idea of what you're going to achieve. And, each night you need to make yourself a list of what to do the next day, for example:

  • read Smith Chapter 2

  • see history tutor

  • analyse sociology essay question/identify resources (last point deleted)

Wasting time and procrastinating

These are general statements, which need to be considered in the light of your own learning style and preferences to study efficiently

  • Beware the whole day off - it is rarely used effectively, especially if you think you'll compensate by working on one thing all day.

  • Try to study three different subjects per day, or at least engage in three distinct tasks. Changing tasks produces a new energy surge. People tend to wind down if they work on the same thing for too long.

  • Work in short intensive blocks (perhaps 30 minutes – you will get to know your best concentration level) with short regular breaks. Up to two hours on one subject is usually enough. An intensive two-hour work session can cover as much ground as a whole day of half-hearted shuffling about. Take a real reward break after each intensive session - have a coffee with friends, go for a walk, watch TV. Then on to the next session.

Reading a text

There are several techniques have been advocated for studying textbooks to READ, REFRESH and REMEMBER.

  1. Preview - Quickly skim over the chapter you are studying to get an overview of the material.
  2. Ask - Constantly ask yourself questions about the headings and keywords. Use who, what, where, when, and why.
  3. Read - Read the first section, answering the questions you asked earlier. Note any unexpected information as well.
  4. Relate - Relate each section to the preceding and following sections.
  5. Recite - Cover your answers and notes, and recite them from heart.
  6. Repeat - Repeat the Ask-Recite sequence for each section in the chapter.
  7. Practice - Do any practice questions and exercises in the material.
  8. Review - Review all your notes, and try to recite the important concepts from heart.

Active reading

  • The idea is that instead of passively reading a textbook and not really paying attention, you have to actively engage your mind in the act of reading, thereby improving comprehension and retaining efficiency. The more you involve your mind in the reading, the better you'll remember.
  • This reading strategy can be used for reading any text in Science, Social Studies and Languages.

Note-making- A matter of method

There are different ways to take good notes. Choose the method that works best for you. You can make up your own method, too, by combining some of the methods below.

The Two Column Method: Divide your notebook paper into two columns. On the right, make a big column. On the left, make a small column, about one inch wide. Take notes in the big column. Highlight important concepts, facts and main headings in the small column.

The Split Page Method: Divide your notebook paper in two equal columns. Take notes in the right column. After class, outline the material in the left column.

Three Column Method: Divide your notebook paper into three equal columns. Take notes in the first column. After class, outline the material in the second column. Write any questions or additional information in the third column.

Take Group Notes: Form a group with two other classmates. Take turns taking notes. After class, get a copy of the group notes. Better, recopy them yourself. Add any information that's missing. Share you new notes with the group.

Memorization Mantras - make words or sentences:

For making a word

Take the first letter of each world and make it into a word. For example:

VIBGYORViolet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, redThe colours of the rainbow
HOMESHuron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, SuperiorThe five Great Lakes

For making a sentence: The sentences can also be made in same manner as the word. King Henry Died, Mother Don't Cry much – this stands for Kilometer. Hectameter, Decameter, Meter, Decimeter, Centimeter, Millimeter.

Rhyme it: Making a rhyme helps you remember facts, too. For example, Henry VIII had six wives. The following rhyme helps you remember what happened to each wife, in order: Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Sing it: How did you memorize the alphabet? You learned the ABC song! Use this memory idea with other new information, too. Set the information to music. The information will be even easier to remember if the song rhymes.

Link it: Link a word or image to the material you want to recall. The image helps you remember the idea. For example, people often confuse desert and dessert. How can you remember that dessert is the food we eat at the end of the meal? Link it to strawberry shortcake have two s's.

Group it: Grouping items together also helps you remember them. Groups of three to four work best. Maybe that's why we put a comma after every set of three numbers. Try it now. Group these numbers to help you remember them: NOT GROUPED: 718046381 GROUPED: 718,046,381

Teach it: Once you get the idea, explain it to yourself or to someone else in your own words. You can even teach it to an imaginary audience. This forces you to organize the material in a way that makes sense to you. it also helps you anticipate questions that will be on the test. As a bonus, you'll be able to correct any misunderstandings you have.

Write it: After you have understood a text, in order to memorize the key points, write them in your own words. This helps in remembering the content and the key points.

Say it: Just repeating the information aloud will help you memorize it. Do not mug up large amounts of information just before an examination. An effective way is to read regularly and gradually develop interlinks between the ideas.

Review it: To fix the information in your mind, you have to review it. Go over the information each day for 5-10 minutes. This will help the information stay in your memory.

Studying for languages

Knowledge of Course Texts (Short Stories, Novels, etc.)

  • Themes are the messages that stories seem to teach. Can you identify the themes in each of your texts? Review your class notes. What are the important themes? How did the themes of one text relate to the themes of others?
  • Remember that books are not about events; they are about people. That means you should not focus only on remembering what happened in your texts. You should think about how the people were affected. How did they feel? How did they react? How were they changed? Practise answering these questions aloud with a friend or a parent. ("In this story the person learned…" or "The main character was affected by…").

Reading Comprehension ("Sight Passage")

The "Sight Passage" is a text (story, essay, etc.) which you will see for the first time in a test situation. You must read the passage and answer the questions which follow. The questions will test your comprehension (i.e. how well you understood what you just read) as well as your ability to respond (i.e. how well you can make personal responses).

Practise for "Sight Passages" with a friend or a parent:

  • Choose a short story or essay and both read it.
  • Have one person summarize the story for the other.
  • Have one person ask the other questions about the story. Include questions that begin "Explain why…" and "How would you have felt if…" and "How does this relate to…?"


  • Review your writing from this year and make a list of your teacher's comments about your writing.
  • Remember the advice about writing you were given and try to use that advice in the final evaluation situation.
  • Remember that good writing has five components: Voice (Active/ Passive voice), Organization, Ideas/Content, Conventions, and Effective use of Language. Try to keep all five in mind as you write. After you finish, review your work and ask yourself about each one of these. "Have I organized this well?" Have I expressed my ideas clearly?"

Studying for Maths and Science

Make a "Study Sheet" to study with (Don't take it with you to the examination though!)

Under each topic, write down the important formulas or information that you need to remember. You don't need to write down things that you already know, just write down the things that you worry about remembering that you wish you could take with you into the test.

Now, do questions – lots of them.

Perhaps your teacher has given you review questions to work on. Do all of these questions. If the teacher did not give you review questions then pick several questions from each homework exercise, a few easy, a few medium and a few difficult ones. As well, redo the quizzes or tests that covered that material. Keep your "study" sheet handy and refer to it as you do the questions. You will find that if you use it while you work on the review questions, then you will be able to visualize it while you write the test or examination. Check your answers as you go along and redo questions that you didn't get the first time. Try to do a problem analysis of each equation prior to answering it.

Get help with what you don't understand.

If there are any questions that you have trouble with then put an asterisk beside them (*) and see your teacher, a tutor or a friend to get help on those questions. After you have received the help with the question then redo the question on your own. It is often easy to watch someone else do a question but another thing to be able to do it yourself.

Do a practice examination.

Either create your own practice examination by using questions from previous tests and quizzes or request your teacher to make one for you. Practising an examination helps to relieve the anxiety of the real examination and reveals areas that you need to work on. Do this practice examination in a simulated examination situation. Isolate yourself, have someone in your family to tell you when your "time is up". After this practice examination, get it marked.

Clear up things you don't understand well before the examination so that the day before the examination you just need to review rather than relearn new material.


  • Help is generally around the corner….!
  • If you don't understand something, get help right away.
Ask your teacher: That's a teacher's job! Most teachers are required to offer extra help. It may be before or after school. Let your teacher know you are coming for extra help. Make a list of concepts that you find confusing. This will help you use the time wisely. Bring your notes and books. Go over your notes, so your teacher can see if you copied something down incorrectly.

Review the books and your notes: After you go for extra help, reread the textbook and your notes. Summarize the information in your own words. Reviewing the material this way helps you remember it.

Ask your parents: Some parents remember a lot of what they learned in middle school. They may even be experts in the field. Even if they are not getting their ideas helps you look at the information in a new way.

Ask your older brothers and sisters: If you are lucky enough to have older siblings, ask them to go over confusing problems with you. After all, they took the same classes a few years ago.

Help from a tutor: studying from tutor helps to understand concepts, and have frequent pracrice sessions before the examination.

Studying efficiently. Some more Tips!

Here are some more tips on efficiency:

  • Think about when your brain works best - morning, night or the middle of the afternoon. Plan your TTD list accordingly. If you're going to read a difficult article for the first time don't start at 10.00 pm unless you are a natural night owl. Do something less demanding in the low times - organise your notes, or write the next day's TTD list.

  • Get out of the house! Early if possible! Work in a library (or other suitable space), as there are fewer distractions. Force yourself to get there - bribe yourself if necessary.

  • Pre-class/tutorial reading. You get a lot more out of a class/tute if you are already familiar with many of the terms and ideas. This saves time later.

  • Review class notes on the same day of the lecture. After that time your ability to 'reconstruct' the lecture, and consequently commit any new ideas to memory, reduces rapidly.

  • Re-read all your notes for each subject every week. (Build this time into your timetable.) Obviously, it will take more time each week as your notes pile up but it will dramatically reduce your examination study time at the end of semester and make you confident that you know your subject.

  • Talk in tutorials - even if only to ask questions. Talking about your subject is a way to test out your understanding. Pre-reading will help you in this.

  • Use library time effectively. Don't borrow huge piles of books. Use overviewing techniques to decide which books are really useful. Most of them won't be. Don't photocopy great wads. Most of it you'll never read. It's a waste of time and money. Take notes on the spot rather than postponing the task.

  • Organise your notes and don't borrow notes from others. Keep all your notes in labelled files in chronological order. Other people's notes are not very helpful - they reflect someone else's interpretation, often in a way that won't make sense to you.

  • Finally, be honest with yourself. Deep down you know whether you've put in the time and really engaged with your study material or not.
No matter whom you ask for extra help,remember: you are asking for help. You're not asking them to do your work for you.
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

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