We spoke with Clinical Psychologist Dr Frank Walsh, based at the UQ Health Care Gatton Clinic about tips students can use to find more clarity, calm and focus during the semester and leading up to exams.

Study effectively

  • Reduce anxiety by being well prepared.
  • Spread your studying over the whole term rather than “cramming.”  Feeling that you don’t have enough time to cover everything increases anxiety.
  • Study in 50 minute blocks with 10 minute activity or nutrition breaks.
  • Learn memory enhancement techniques.
  • Study by getting comfortable with what you will have to do in the exam: writing answers to practice questions under a time limit while sitting at a desk.

Prepare to write the exam

  • Eliminate extraneous sources of anxiety such as how to get to the exam room by figuring that out in advance.
  • Think about what commonly distracts you during exams (e.g.: frequent clock-watching, noise from other students etc.) and develop strategies in advance for dealing with these distractions.
  • Get as much rest as possible the night before the exam.
  • Wear a watch to monitor your time.
  • Wear layered clothing so you can control your temperature during the exam.
  • Only go to the exam room a few minutes early to avoid encountering anxious people.

Adjust your attitude

  • Maintain an attitude of doing the best you can under the circumstances, rather than requiring perfection from yourself.
  • Plan a reward for yourself after the exam. Praise yourself as you write the exam; e.g.,“half done and so far, so good.”

Change unhelpful thoughts

  • Learn, and practice over time, how to challenge your negative thoughts (e.g., “I’m going to fail.”).
  • The best way to do this is to let the negative thought be true until your mind rejects it i.e. focus on the negative thought, and only one negative thought at a time, and wait until you become bored with it.

Use test-taking strategies

  • Do a “memory dump” of information you are afraid you will forget on the back of the exam when you first receive it.
  • Read through the exam at the beginning and figure out how much time to spend on each question, according to what each question is worth.
  • To build confidence, start with questions you know rather than focusing on the ones you don’t.
  • Start with any multiple-choice or True/False section to gain clues that might help you answer other questions.
  • Take 30-second “mini-breaks” at specified points during the exam to use a relaxation strategy such as closing your eyes, relaxing your hands, and breathing deeply.

If your thoughts are racing and your mind becomes cluttered with worries

  • Don’t focus on getting rid of the anxiety because that will only feed the anxiety;
  • Concentrate hard on a specific sensation (e.g the hum of the lights in the room) to clear your mind of anxiety; or
  • Be with your anxiety – concentrate on your physical symptoms. If you can completely experience a physical sensation, it often disappears.

When these don’t work for you

  • There are some students who experience very intense anxiety in spite of following all of these steps. If you are one of these students then you may benefit from more intensive psychological assistance through one-on-one sessions with a clinical psychologist who can guide you through better managing the anxiety you experience.

Find out more or book an appointment with a clinical psychologist at a UQ Health Care Clinic.