Exams are a part of life, from the time you’re in school to your ongoing career. In elementary school through college, you’ll be preparing for tests in all your classes, hoping for good grades that allow you to pass (and ones that look good on your resume). In your career, certification exams like the CPA exam might stand between you and that promotion you’ve always wanted.
There’s a lot on the line, so exams are naturally stressful.
To make matters worse, that stress can create a feedback loop. If you’re stressed before and during the exam, you might perform worse – and that worse performance will make you even more nervous and more stressed before your next exam.
How can you break the cycle and destress before it’s too late?
The best tool in your arsenal is starting early. If your exam is a month away, you can start studying now. It’s common for people to procrastinate, whether they’re a student or an adult with a steady career; it’s easier not to think about the exam and just go about your daily life.
However, starting early gives you more time to psychologically prepare for the exam – and the far-off date makes it far less stressful to study. On top of that, you’ll be more likely to remember what you study, since you’ll be committing the information to long-term memory, and you’ll feel more confident about your acquired knowledge. You’ll also eliminate the need for those hours-long, late-night cramming sessions (which are proven to be ineffective anyway).
Adapt to Your Testing Environment
Next, try to adapt to your testing environment. If you know where the test is going to be held, try to visit that location – and possibly do some studying there. Being more familiar with your testing environment will make you feel more comfortable and confident. It will also give you a chance to practice visualization techniques and recall information better during the actual exam.
Take Plenty of Breaks
While studying, make sure you take plenty of breaks. Taking a few minutes every hour or so to walk around and get a change of scenery can reduce your stress. And taking a full day off after a week of studying can help you feel more relaxed – and prevent other areas of your life from being neglected. The extra time will also improve your information retention and recall, making you feel even more confident about what you’re learning.
Study With Other People
Studying alone is effective, but it’s also beneficial to study with a group of people. Studying with others will help expose you to different studying methods, and you’ll be held accountable for your personal goals in a group setting as well. Plus, you’ll get to commiserate with the people in your group, bond, and reduce your stress as a team.
On top of that, you’ll have a gauge of your level of retained knowledge. If you seem to know more than most of the other people in your group, you’ll feel far less stressed about your upcoming test performance.
Take a Practice Test
Some people are good at learning and retaining information, but they choke when taking the actual exam. If you’re worried about this, or if you just want an opportunity to see how much you’ve learned, try taking a practice exam. Depending on the nature of the exam, there may or may not be a formal version available; if not, you can come up with your own practice exam or create one with your study group.
Get More Sleep
Get more sleep throughout your studying schedule and in the nights leading up to your exam. Sleep is an important prerequisite for the formation of long-term memory, and it will help you feel better rested, alert, and relaxed the next day. Don’t stay up late the night before, even if you think you could use the extra practice.
Seek Professional Help
The straightforward strategies for reducing test anxiety aren’t always going to be effective. If you’re crippled by severe anxiety or if your stress is only getting worse, it may be a good idea to seek professional help. Talking to a therapist may help you uncover the roots of your anxieties and find better ways to manage your symptoms – or you may be able to get a prescription medication that helps keep those symptoms in check.
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire cure for exam stress. In fact, a little stress is actually a good thing; it can motivate you to prepare your best and keep you alert during testing. What’s important is that you do everything you can to adequately prepare and reduce your stress and anxieties. That way, you can be more comfortable come exam time and maximize your academic performance.