Whether you’re studying for your ATAR or trying to bump up that university GPA – exam time can be a stressful experience.
And while butterflies and sweaty palms are normal when you’re feeling nervous, test anxiety can become overwhelming and debilitating for some. In fact, research by Cluey Learning found that 75 per cent of Australian senior students experience “ATAR Anxiety”.
“The worsening of exam and ATAR related anxiety is due to both internal and external factors,” Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab told Men’s Health. “Whilst internally, within schools, there is a huge focus on academic success, performance and ranking, there is also a focus on extracurricular activities and naturally, a student’s performance in that realm too.”
Throw in stressing parents and friends comparing marks, it’s easy for students to become consumed with worry. So, pens down – here’s how you can deal with exam stress and anxiety.
How can you tell the difference between normal nerves and chronic stress?
It’s natural to feel a few nerves before a big test but how can you figure out when the stressful feels are entering unhealthy territory? Normal worrying crosses a line when it become excessive, intrusive, persistent and disruptive.
What can students do to help manage their anxiety around exam time?
1. Don’t buy into the hype
“First and foremost, not buying into the hype and riding other people’s anxiety wave can be a great way to manage anxieties around exam time,” Anzab says.
“[Ensuring] that there isn’t an overload of unrelated information via social media, television stimuli and negatively geared conversation are fantastic boundaries to upkeep in order to manage better.”
2. Manage your lifestyle
Staying up late and smashing energy drinks in a bid to keep cramming? You’re probably doing yourself more harm than good. Quality sleep and a healthy diet are essential for managing anxiety.
“Sugar from high-sugar foods or simple carbohydrate foods such as pasta, produces a quick spike in our blood-sugar levels which can quick drop again,” SANE Australia Psychologist Melissa Wilson says says. “This sudden drop in blood-sugar can also mimic physical symptoms of anxiety.”
“If we are already experiencing anxiety, caffeine can act to increase the physical symptoms of anxiety such muscle tension, shakiness, increased heart rate or palpitations and perspiration. Caffeine can also cause panic in people without an anxiety disorder.”
Choose food that are nutrient rich and good for your gut health like vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and fermented foods (probiotics) such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and kefir.
When it come to snoozing, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
3. Take mindfulness breaks
“Taking time to be mindful of rest breaks and paying attention to simple things such as breath and meditation are great at reducing the stress response and in turn the anxiety around exam time,” Anzab says.
Try downloading a meditation app or follow some simple breathing exercises like these. Even a quick walk outside can help clear your mind and boost your mood.
4. Structure your exam prep
Some study habits are more likely to lead to anxiety than others. Get organised and structure your prep around achievable goals.
“Of course, being prepared is the key to success – ensuring students spend time studying relevant information, have a structured study routine and minimise distractions to assist in memory retention can all help keep a student’s cool,” Anzab says.
What are some tips for parents to help their kids manage anxiety around exams?
“As parents, we can all be a little guilty of putting a little bit of unintentional pressure on our children to perform, have a strict routine and as a result, may become inflexible in our approach,” Anzab says.
“Parents all over can assist their children in managing anxiety around exams by reassuring them that they are doing to the best of their abilities, by minimising a false sense of pressure that the HSC results can either make or break your adult life and by encouraging children to engage in self-care throughout the process.”