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December 21, 2004 > Teacher Gives Students Ten Steps to Stop Stressing About Final Exams

Teacher Gives Students Ten Steps to Stop Stressing About Final Exams

Before heading home for the Holidays, high school and college students across the country must face final exams. Nothing spells stress more than final exams.

Dr. Jim Kestner, Ph.D. in education and Hey U.G.L.Y., Inc. NFP associate is one of the nation's leading experts in character-development. He has put together ten steps students can take to gear up for an easier trek through the testing tundra. How totally cool that these tips come from a professor that has actually given final exams. He is also the man who developed the Dynamics of Leadership curriculum for Oprah Winfrey when she taught at Northwestern University.


  1. Prepare Your Body - The best start to sharpening your mind is to fine tune your body. Peak mental performance starts with a body that is fueled with healthy foods, moderately exercised, and given adequate rest. An occasional candy bar or popcorn might be fine, but avoid filling your body with junk foods, which tend to give you a quick burst of energy that will run out before you need it most. Drink water and avoid extra caffeine. Take walks, shoot hoops, jog, dance, or take time for some other kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping. Start now or at least a week before exams, then keep it up. Your mind will thank you for it.

  2. Collect Your Gear - You wouldn't try to play tennis without a racquet. Organize yourself early by collecting and inspecting your equipment. You'll need tests and quizzes, notes, textbooks and workbooks, and copies of handouts from class. If you have lost your syllabus or course overview, ask your instructor for another copy. Collect review sheets and lists of vocabulary words, important names and dates, or theorems, laws and principles. Organize these materials into separate stacks so you'll have all you need in front of you as you begin to study.

  3. Map Your Route - The best way to reach your destination is to plan ahead, and the first step is just getting started. You already know-or you may ask your teacher if you aren't sure-when you'll be taking your exams. Prepare a plan by scheduling time ahead to study for each exam. Avoid putting things off, as procrastination is not only one of the greatest contributors to stress, but also the choice least likely to lead to success. Prepare a chart or calendar that includes each test date, then plan backward to allow at least three and ideally six or seven days ahead of time to start studying.

  4. Pack For the Journey - Now that you have a plan, it's time to start packing. Look back at major tests, vocabulary words, and important projects. Review lists of key points at the beginning and end of textbook chapters, along with the main headings in between. A good approach is to get a set of note cards, then write each major topic from these materials on one card. Next, go through your notes and add important points to remember under the major topics. When you get ready to study, you can focus on the cards instead of having to refer to different books and papers.

  5. Break It Down - Now that you have your information in a form that will literally fit in your hand, break the cards down into smaller stacks. Look at the chart or calendar you made and prepare one smaller stack for each day you have set aside for studying for that test. Put a rubber band around each smaller stack and commit yourself to mastering the material on each smaller stack on the day you have planned.

  6. Take Time to Laugh It Up With a Friend - So far, we've been focused on preparing to study. Now it's time to lighten up and get some help. Call a friend or classmate and schedule some laughter and study time together. That's right, laughing time. According to Steve Wilson, physiologist, and founder of the World Laughter Tour, "If you look at all the research on laughter, it strongly leads us to the conclusion that one of the main purposes of laughter is the discharge of tension. Laughter also energizes people. If you laugh long enough and hard enough you reverse the physiology of stress. And anything that can reduce the ill-effects of stress is an ally in health and happiness." A national not-for-profit that helps teens with self-esteem issues has a CD of contagious laughter on the market called, Laugh It Off. It sells for $10.00 at "http://www.heyugly.com" and all the proceeds go to help them achieve their mission. Instructions on the CD suggest you use it as a stress reliever by laughing along with the "laughtercising voices" or let it play quietly in the background. It will help lighten your mood and put a smile on your face. Once you and your friend are de-stressed, you can help one another by taking turns quizzing on the cards. It's a lot more fun than doing all the studying alone. Plan some snack breaks or exercise sessions during your study time to break up the study time. Be sure your breaks don't last so long that you fall short of what you planned to study. Some people like to set a timer or agree on a time to come back to studying as a way to make good progress.

  7. Take a Trial Run - Many famous athletes, entertainers and musicians, as well as very successful people in other walks of life, understand the importance of practice before a performance. Get out your note cards, a pen or pencil and some paper, and then cover up all but the headings. Write what you know about each heading on the paper. If you get stuck, just peek at the card and keep going. The act of writing out the answers will help you remember them later. You'll gain confidence from knowing that you could remember what was on the cards before you actually take the test.

  8. Visualize Your Success - Another part of practicing is to picture yourself being successful on test day. Sit at a desk or table in a chair with a pen or pencil and paper in front of you. Close your eyes and picture yourself in the room where you'll take the exam. Picture in your mind the instructor passing out the exams and you receiving yours. Next, take one or two deep breaths-inhaling slowly for a count of three, then exhaling slowly for a count of eight. Notice how calming it is to breathe this way. Now imagine yourself beginning the test. Picture the questions on the exam, and visualize yourself confidently recalling the answers from your note cards. Watch yourself calmly answering the questions correctly, finishing the exam, and turning it in.

  9. Stay Sharp - Throughout the study process, as well as during your actual test days, take breaks to keep yourself sharp. Get plenty of sleep each night so you won't be asking a tired mind to perform. Laugh, sing, exercise and eat healthy, especially on test days.

  10. Reward Your Efforts - No matter what happens during your exams, reward yourself for the work you put in ahead of time. Remember that you cannot control what questions appear on the test or whether you understood or remembered everything. Sometimes students keep thinking about a missed question or two on a test, which keeps them from focusing on other questions. Give yourself a mental high five for the answers you know you got right, and skip over questions you don't know until you finish the rest. Then come back and try those questions again. And once the test is over, let is pass. Look ahead to the next exam with the confidence that you have prepared yourself for success.

 
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