Don’t let stress affect tests: Tips for studying when stressed

By Elizabeth Dye

Students wake up to a slight, cool breeze rolling through the dorm room window, and a bright ray of sunlight peaks through the curtains. They groggily roll out of bed, (after snoozing the alarm three times) and look at their phones to check the time, only to discover that the day is Reading Day. This means two things: Classes are over and final exam season is just a day away.

If one spends reading day studying like intended, then the extra reviewing should allow for an edge when final exams come around. But for students who use Reading Day as a head start to day drink or an excuse to lay out at the ARC’s outside pool all day, studying for a final may seem like a distant concern. But the reality may hit hard the next day when time starts running out. 

Mandi Carey, a stress management peer in McKinley Health Center’s health education department and senior in LAS, recommended learning healthy coping mechanisms to use during high-stress periods such as finals week. She said McKinley’s website provides free downloads of relaxation exercises — including deep breathing, muscle relaxation and music — students can use to de-stress. 

Learn how to avoid stressful situations when studying and study more effectively by following this advice:

What to avoid: 

All-nighters

Most college students are no strangers to all-nighters. With schedules jam-packed with class, work, homework and exams, sacrificing a night of sleep to devote more time to studying may seem worth the next-day exhaustion. But research suggests otherwise. According to a study by St. Lawrence University, students who regularly pulled all-nighters averaged a 2.9 GPA, while those who did not had a higher average GPA of 3.1. While studying for a long period of time may feel productive, the effects of sleep deprivation can actually cause grades to plummet.  

“I pull all-nighters too often, and it usually affects me the rest of the day,” said Pharaoh Watson, freshman in LAS. “I never do as well on a test if I don’t sleep enough the night before.” 

Study groups with friends

Studying alone can seem boring, lonely or just plain ineffective to some students. This is where, many believe, study groups come in handy. Unfortunately, while studying with friends may seem like an effective way to study, that may not actually be the case. Study groups can turn into talking marathons and waste the time each student devoted to studying if the group is not organized well. For groups to be effective, try to study with people who will commit themselves to studying and in places with few distractions.

Stressed people

There is a common saying that goes, “You become who you surround yourself with.” In the case of stressed people, this could not be more than true. According to a recent study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universitat Dresden, stress can be very contagious and just being around stressed people can cause a student stress. Even if one can’t go a day without running into stressed students, try to limit time around finals-stressed friends to keep stress levels down.

How to relieve stress and study effectively: 

Create a plan of attack

Having a game plan set up ahead of time can help lessen the stress of studying by eliminating surprises and cram sessions. Before studying, set up a schedule with times devoted to studying and what should be accomplished that day. Setting small goals every day can be beneficial by allowing a student to achieve some accomplishment every day. This can lessen stress, knowing that with each day, a student is getting more accomplished. Students can also try separating work into chunks, so that the pressure of learning a whole chapter in a single night is eliminated. Additionally, try to prioritize what needs to be done first, and avoid wasting time studying something of little importance.

“We recommend that you use the coping mechanism you’ve learned when you perceive an event to be stressful,” Carey said. “It can stop you from worrying, procrastinating and that snowball effect from building up.” 

Keep distractions away

One of the most crucial aspects to studying is the time actually spent studying. Becoming too wrapped up in a texting conversation on the phone can cause a student to miss out on valuable time dedicated to studying. This lost time can lead to even more stress. In order to utilize study time, keep distractions away by clearing schedules and giving full concentration to studying without having to stress about fulfilling other obligations or feeling guilty about what’s not getting done. Also, turn off the phone and study alone. It is important to find an environment that will minimize distractions. Fortunately, there are several places to study on campus that can do just that.

Eat well, sleep well and work out regularly

As obvious as it may sound, good health can both help minimize stress and encourage healthy study habits. Because stress is a physical reaction, learn to relieve it better by building up health. This can be done by eating regularly, sticking to nutritious and wholesome foods and cutting out junk food. Try exercising regularly and sleeping the required amount for students (anywhere between eight to nine hours) every night to keep energy levels up and to relieve exam-related stress.

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected]