stressed out 88.
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Dear Dr. Batya,
We have recently started a new semester. I've always had a lot of tests, but this year we have had so many more and I've really felt it get to me physically and emotionally. I know I have to balance my personal life, family responsibilities and hobbies, but these tests are so important to me. Please give me some tips on how to calm down, manage my time and still be successful.
- P.N., Herzliya
You've said some very important things in your letter to me. It is very important to have balance in your life between home and school and yet still manage to have fun. How can you achieve this when teachers all seem to give tests at the same time? Let's see if we can find a way. You are right that it is important to not get anxious, because stress does affect you both emotionally and physically. While some stress can be motivating, too much stress isn't healthy.
First things first. Plan ahead by prioritizing both what you need to do and what you want to do. For example, make sure that you are prepared for the test tomorrow before you prepare for the test the day after. Don't cram the night before but try instead to review a little bit each day throughout the semester by making yourself a schedule that is manageable. Planning a schedule in advance, with daily and weekly goals for homework, tests and assignments, will allow you to keep on top of everything you currently need to be doing, as well as helping you prepare ahead for tests. This should lower your anxiety level but, more importantly, it will enable you to plan for other things like time with friends, hobbies and work around the house.
Set a regular time each day to do your schoolwork. This should be a time when you are refreshed and can focus, a time free from phone, television, computer and other distractions, and in a place conducive to doing work. Give yourself a certain amount of review time each day in addition to your regular school work and set goals for each review session. Even 10 to 20 minutes of review a day will help keep the material fresh, alert you to any problems and enable you to stay ahead of things when that dreaded week of tests comes around.
A good way to study is to review the material as you go along. Simply go over the work and recite the highlights of what you just read. Then check and see how you did. Did you remember the main ideas and did you get the important details? It also helps to rewrite your notes by summarizing them as you go. Compare this to your original notes and add the important facts that you may have forgotten. Do this for each chapter and you'll have a wonderful review. Again, this should not be done at the last minute but rather as the semester moves along.
Make sure that you schedule plenty of breaks for yourself. You may find that after 20 to 30 minutes of studying you are no longer paying attention. If that is the case, get up, walk around, get a snack or switch back and forth between two subjects. It is always best to work on the most difficult subject first, when you are fresh and most able to concentrate. Reward yourself with the easier and more enjoyable work afterward.
Check out your studying environment and make sure conditions are perfect. Is it quiet, well lit, warm enough and free from distraction? Are you happy there and does it help you study or do you need to fix up your spot to enable you to better focus? Now, take a look at your afternoon activities. Are you enjoying them? Are you doing too much or too little? Do you have the time to do the things you want to do? Are you doing things that you don't like? What can you do to put more fun in your life? Are you getting to exercise in an enjoyable way? I say this because exercise, making sure that you get enough sleep and eating right all contribute to good health and are very important in helping you to remember, concentrate and focus on all your work.
Finally, imagine that it is the day of the test. Take a nice deep relaxing breath and imagine a pleasant scene. Check out your body posture and relax all over. Imagine reading the directions and all the questions carefully so you know what is being asked. Plan out your time carefully and allow time at the end for review. Leave the questions you have difficulty with until the end. Be positive and make sure the messages you tell yourself are helpful. Now breathe deeply and relax. You can do it! Continue until you finish, hand in your test, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you did the best you could. Imagine this scenario many times and then repeat it on the day of the actual test. Remember, even though tests may be important, their purpose is really to see what you know and what you still need help with. Try to keep this in mind. Once a test is over, forget about it and enjoy some stress-free time until you have to start on the next one.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.