Dr. Bhavna Barmi
   Clinical psychologist, Escorts Heart Institute And Research Institute

Stress - a state of mental or emotional strain. Stress is the body's normal response to a challenge, threat or excitement. The consequence of stress depends largely on how you interpret the physical symptoms – it can help motivate you or it can paralyze you -- the decision is yours!

Take, for example, the following scenario:

  • Amit: A student just before a critical exam
  • Shilpa : An athlete just before a big competition

Both Amit and Shilpa are aware of the same physical symptoms: sweaty palms, racing heart, knot or butterflies in the pit of the stomach.

Amit, the student, feels distressed by his symptoms and views them negatively, as if the symptoms are a sign of impending failure. Amit may have trouble sleeping and spend a lot of time worrying about his physical condition and the upcoming exam.

Shilpa, the athlete, interprets her symptoms as a sign that she can motivate herself to perform well. She views the symptoms as evidence that she is “psyching herself up” for the big competition.

Stress can be a barrier to optimal performance or a motivating agent – it all depends on how you interpret, label and manage what you are experiencing.
The trick is to figure out what level of stress is motivating for you and what amount is paralyzing and then work to keep it in the motivating zone.

General Exam Stress-Busting Tips:

Believe in yourself . You wouldn't have been given a place on the course if you didn't have the ability to do it. Therefore, if you prepare for the exams properly you should do fine, meaning that there is no need to worry excessively.
Don't try to be perfect . It's great to succeed and reach for the stars. But keep things in balance. If you think that "anything less than A+ means I've failed" then you are creating mountains of unnecessary stress for yourself. Aim to do your best but recognize that none of us can be perfect all of the time.
Take steps to overcome problems. If you find you don't understand some of your course material, getting stressed out won't help. Instead, take action to address the problem directly by seeing your course tutor or getting help from your class mates.
Don't keep things bottled up. Confiding in someone you trust and who will be supportive is a great way of alleviating stress and worry.
Keep things in perspective. The exams might seem like the most crucial thing right now, but in the grander scheme of your whole life they are only a small part.

PQSRT Technique to study

        •  P review - Skim the material to get an overall preview
        •  Q uestions - Formulate questions that highlight what you aim to derive from your reading
        •  R ead Actively - Make appropriate notes of key ideas
        •  S ummarize - Identify the main points using lists, key words, flow diagrams, etc and connect them            with knowledge from other sources
        • T est - Test yourself by reciting and reviewing the summaries immediately after learning the             material and again at later intervals

Other tips to follow

  • Use flow diagrams, keywords or patterns linking ideas to make master summaries for revision purposes.
  • Use cue cards! Index-sized "flash" cards are easy to carry around and are useful for learning information you find particularly hard to remember.
    You can put facts, figures, formulae on the cards and use colours, keywords, mnemonics and other memory aids to help you learn.
  • Space your studying - give yourself time for the information to sink in. Study related topics together and take regular, short breaks at suitable "achievement points".
  • Compare notes with other students and get feedback and/or clarification from tutors.

Tips for the revision period:

  • Leave plenty of time to revise so that you don't get into a situation of having to do last minute cramming. This approach will help to boost your confidence and reduce any pre-exam stress as you know you have prepared well.
  • Develop a timetable so that you can track and monitor your progress. Make sure you allow time for fun and relaxation so that you avoid burning out.
  • As soon as you notice your mind is losing concentration, take a short break. You will then come back to your revision refreshed.
  • Experiment with several alternative revision techniques so that revision is more fun and your motivation to study is high.
  • Don't drink too much coffee, tea and fizzy drinks; the caffeine will 'hype' you and make your thinking less clear. Eat healthily and regularly; your brain will benefit from the nutrients.
  • Regular moderate exercise will boost your energy, clear your mind and reduce any feelings of stress.
  • Try out some yoga, tai chi or relaxation techniques. They will help to keep you feeling calm and balanced, improve your concentration levels and help you to sleep better.

Tips for the exam itself:

  • Avoid panic. It's natural to feel some exam nerves prior to starting the exam, but getting excessively nervous is counterproductive as you will not be able to think clearly.
  • The quickest and most effective way of eliminating feelings of stress and panic is to close your eyes and take several long, slow deep breaths. Breathing in this way calms your whole nervous system. Simultaneously you could give yourself some mental pep talk by mentally repeating "I am calm and relaxed" or "I know I will do fine".
  • If your mind goes blank, don't panic! Panicking will just make it harder to recall information. Instead, focus on slow, deep breathing for about one minute. If you still can't remember the information then move on to another question and return to this question later.
  • After the exams don't spend endless time criticizing yourself for where you think you went wrong. Often our own self-assessment is far too harsh. Congratulate yourself for the things you did right, learn from the bits where you know you could have done better, and then move on.
  • Sort out your topics for revision -- base selection of topics on syllabus and examination requirements, on predictions derived from past papers and on guidelines suggested by tutors.
  • Revise a routine of study periods that is realistic and productive and includes rest intervals!
  • Pay attention to diet, sleep and recreation – all are important factors in maintaining balance and keeping stress levels under control.
  • Breakdown targets into manageable units. Ticking off completed units creates a sense of forward movement. A checklist for the day's targets (making sure the targets are realistic and achievable) can also boost morale.

To conclude use your time wisely – deal with less demanding tasks in periods of the day when you are less alert or focused. If you find yourself struggling unproductively with a problem, take a break or switch to some other work. The more you actively interact with the subject matter, making it your own, and linking it to previous knowledge, the more meaningful and memorable it becomes.

All the best