Part 3: Managing Exam Stress – Psychological Tips

The research, by psychologists Matthew Killingworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard found out that People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingworth and Gilbert write.

As you can see perceive things which are even not happening in the present moment. Replacing brain is not possible but how to manage it is possible.

Below are following techniques you can use to manage your stress.


When you’re stressed out or feeling anxious, your breathing speeds up, and becomes shallow, reducing how much oxygen reaches your organs. Learning breathing techniques is a great way of preventing you from experiencing the physiological symptoms of anxiety. To learn how to breathe efficiently:

  • Become aware of your breathing. Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. Breathe in so that your stomach rises, and then falls back as you breathe out. The hand on your chest shouldn’t move too much.
  • Get a steady rhythm of breathing. Try and take in the same amount of air each time you breathe in.
  • If you’ve managed the two steps above, try and slow your breathing rate down. Add a short pause between when you finish breathing out, and when you take another breath.

It might not feel totally comfortable at first, as it can sometimes feel like you’re not getting quite enough air. But if you practice regularly it should begin to feel comfortable and easy. (Via- Reachout)

Observe & Identify

As per the above research of Daniel & Matthew, we almost spend half of our day in our head.

We are not living in the present moment half of the time. We listen and tell stories in our heads all the time without paying attention to what is going on around us.

We are on auto-pilot mode most of the time and take actions without paying attention to our thoughts. Mindfulness (a practice which I teach and do) teaches you about taking a pause. Observing the mental and physical world difference. Identifying if the actions or behaviour we are displaying is just impulse reaction or thought after move.

Most of my clients believe they are their thoughts and feelings, which is not true. By learning to observe what is going on and after that identifying it being real or mental chatter is key step to better life.

Don’t Distract

When I talk to people, most of the clients use one or another method of distraction to avoid those unwanted emotions.

For example when I’m having a thought before going to a big meeting that “I’m useless” and “I’m not able to help anyone”, do I go and start watching a movie or read a book or have a cigarette or a drink.

Distraction will give relief for some time but it’s not a long term solution. I’ve personally found distraction does not work very well in the long run and recent scientific research also agrees.

Don’t distract yourself. Immerse yourself in the world around you. Take a mindful pause and choose to move forward in the direction which matters.

Put a label

While you are observing and identifying, take a further step of labelling your thoughts.

Rather than dodging, disputing, or distracting make room for the thoughts.

“Label” them.

When you mind starts saying “I’m hopeless”, “I can’t do it” or “This is too tough”.

Put a label on the thought “Here is that hopeless me” story or “here is I can’t do it” story or “here is this is too tough” story.

You can become more creative and give your thoughts funny name that reduces its influence on you: “here is that broken tape of this is not going to work out playing in the head AGAIN!!!!”

Schedule Worry Time

I have not tried this but found it to be an interesting idea.

A new study by researchers in the Netherlands finds, when people scheduled 30 minutes period each day to worrying, they were able to cope better with their stress and problems.

The study made use of a technique, called “stimulus control,” that researchers have studied for almost 30 years. By compartmentalizing worry — setting aside a specific half-hour period each day to think about worries and consider solutions, and also deliberately avoiding thinking about those issues the rest of the day — people can ultimately help reduce those worries, research has shown. (Via – NBCNEWS)

 Write Down

This is an extension to above points. By writing down your thoughts you will be able to distance yourselves from it.

Researchers found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear, according to the article, “Writing about Testing Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom.” The article appears in the Jan. 14 issue of Science and is based on research supported by the National Science Foundation.

The writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties before taking the test and accordingly freed up brainpower needed to complete the test successfully — brainpower that is normally occupied by testing worries, explained the study’s senior author, Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University.

I’ve personally found this to work best for me, writing my journal is my super stress-buster.

 Support Network

A support system is the best way to cope up with any difficulties in life, exams one of them. You should have a support network for all subjects and any other physiological or psychological problems.

A simple way to create is to finish following sentences for all the things you care about.

 When I get stuck in X I’ll call

 You can have multiple people, for same subject.

Additional Resources

I’ve written series of article which will provide tools, techniques and strategies which can help students reduce stress. The links are below.

Part 1: Managing Exam Stress

Part 2: Time Management

Part 3: Psychological Tools

Part 4: Other Strategies

Part 5: Parent’s Guide

Mrugank Patel