5 Ways to Fight Finals Stress

by Zena Smith

If the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, exams season is just the opposite—the most stressful time of the year. As the semester wraps up, students have two things on their mind: the joy and promise of summer, and the bottomless pit of finals stress standing in its way.

Fortunately, there is a lot that students can do to make that pit of stress smaller and more manageable—and even make it disappear.


Start Early
Academic stress is that feeling that the walls are closing in.  As the end of the semester approaches, students may feel their workload is too large to finish or the material is too tough to master with the little time they’ve got left. 

Luckily, one of the best solutions to finals stress is also one of the easiest. Make more time to study by starting earlier. You will be surprised how your focus improves when you feel you’ve got more than enough time to learn the material. Compare that with the panic you experience when you realize your only option is an all-nighter, and you’ll see why this is our go-to tip for stress-free studying.

Take Physical and Mental Breaks
No matter who you are or what you are doing, your brain and body are bound to get tired when you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time.

And that includes studying. Most students do best to study for thirty minutes to an hour at a time without a break. After that, your attention span will likely suffer, you’ll feel less focused, and you may have a harder time retaining key information.  That’s a frustrating feeling—setting out time to study and not making progress because your brain is tired—and frustration equals stress!

When you start to feel sluggish or find it impossible to focus, give yourself a break. You can break physically by going for a run or a jog (and exercise has been proven to improve focus!), or you can take a mental break by playing a brain game, having some alone time with your thoughts, or listening to your favorite music.

When you feel refreshed, get back to studying!

Simulate Test Day
A lot of teachers share this trick with their students, but it is surprising how helpful it can be in reducing test day stress.

While studying, try to simulate the test environment as best you can. If you’ll take the test from your desk in a white brick room at 10:00 am, try to match as many of those criteria as you can during your study sessions.  You may not have these resources at home, but you might get close with a conference room at your local library or by going to school before/after hours to practice.

Similarly, you can create your own environment by repeating your own unique studying behaviors on test day. Chew your favorite gum while studying Algebra, then have another piece while taking your test.

No matter how you opt to do it, familiarizing your body and mind with your test day surroundings can go a long way to get your brain clicking and rid you of the jitters.


Eat and Drink Right
Believe it or not, the quality of your diet has a huge impact on brain function, and that plays a part in how you feel leading up to your exam.

Staying hydrated is key. Getting enough water not only keeps you sharp while taking the test; it is also known to prevent headaches. And anyone who has truly freaked out about finals knows that headaches create stress and stress creates headaches. Keeping a water bottle in your book bag is a great way to make sure you get the water you need to avoid headaches and stress altogether.

On the other hand, what you eat matters too. Contrary to what you might think, it’s best to avoid high-sugar and high-caffeine options before taking tests—especially if you’re in for a full day of test taking. While you might enjoy the reward of an energy boost early on, we all know that sugar and caffeine come with a crash. And once you crash, you’ll have a hard time waking up your brain.

You can also be pro-active about reducing finals stress by eating foods that have been shown to do just that. That’s right—some foods have stress-fighting qualities, and it is a good idea to work them into your diet in the days and weeks before the big day. Nuts, leafy greens, berries, fish, and green tea are all great options for de-stressing before exam day!

Get Plenty of Rest
Another bit of common sense, but one that many students are accustomed to ignoring. No matter how tempting it may be to save your studying for the wee hours of the morning, it’s not worth it! While it may pay off for one day, the long-term effects of losing sleep are stress, stress, and more stress. Being overtired will make you irritable off the bat, and you’ll only feel worse when your brain won’t wake up to remember that equation you need for the test!

While in school, shoot for seven or eight hours of sleep per night. You should notice an improved mood, ease of learning, and memory. And that is a huge part of beating exam day stress.

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