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Good Physical and Mental Study Habits Can Reduce Exam Stress

It’s the end of school, college or university year and if you’re a student, you’re probably tired, stressed and looking forward to the summer vacation to rest, relaxation and plenty of fun. But before you can kick back and enjoy yourself, you’ve got to make it through the most nerve-wrecking portion of the year: exams. And studying for them can be every bit as hectic — physically and mentally — as taking them can be. Pile all these together can cause serious stress, which can lead to other health issues such as depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to minimize physical stress and maximize mental agility before you sit down to show your teacher or professor what you’ve learned over the last months.

According to Dr. Sharon Jones, Ergonomics Specialist and Professor of Industrial Design at College of Design, at NC State University (NCSU), a major component of successful studying is environmental.

Desk: You need to know the importance that where you sit and the surface you’re working on are adjusted to fit your body properly. If you’re hunched over staring at a book or a screen, or your arms are being held at an unnatural angle while you use a mouse or keyboard, your muscles start to cramp up, which causes discomfort. You may unconsciously start to fidget while your body tries to find a comfortable position, and more often than not you’ll end up in some unbalanced postures, which leads to your inability to concentrate.

Eyes: Don’t forget to give them an occasional break as well. The muscles surrounding the eye need to stretch and move around just as much as the muscles in the rest of our body. Also make sure your workspace is properly lighted.

Body: Don’t forget to give them a break; it’s never a good idea to stay in one position for along period. The recommendation is to get up for 5 minutes on the hour, to move around or do some simple stretches. Set an alarm and keep your water (NO Soda or Caffeine) and snack (Healthy Food) across the room away from you, so that you’re forced to move around.


According to Dr. Doug Gillan, Professor and Department Head of Psychology at

College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NCSU, the key to learning anything is not to try and learn it all at once. You need to space your study, than mass studying, which will make learning more effective when you do it a bit at a time. So, take a break from one subject and the other if you’re studying for multiple exams. When you try to cram for an exam, this process doesn’t allow enough time for it actually to process the information into long-term memory.

Our memory is very organized. You learn things best when you place the information into a pre-existing category within your memories.

The technique refers to as DIET: Define Interpret, Example, and Theory.

1. Definition: Can be from a textbook; but don’t just memorize that definition. The goal is to make the subject personal to you, so that you have a connection to it within your memory.

2. Interpret: Put it into your own words.

3. Example: Use the interpretation in an idea that is meaningful to you, so that you’re taking an abstract idea and making it something you can relate to.

4. Theory: Place the information into a broader content related to the subject.

One of our bad habits that student do is staying up all night drinking excess amounts of caffeine and trying to cram all the information they need to know. This type of environment can not be duplicating it during the test, which just makes it more difficult to recall the information from your memory. Sleep (AT LEAST 8 Hours) is also the key word, which will ensure that you are clear headed to be able to read, understand and recall the information stored in your brain.

Now I will take you to a gym, and do not forget to bring your BRAIN with you. This gym is quite different and a special one it is called the Brain Gym.

Brain Gym is a simple program to enhance ones learning ability.  www.braingym.org

Brain Gym only takes 5 to 10 minutes to implement each day, or whenever you feel there is a need for it. It gains hours of productivity and improved performance. It requires no special equipment or space – the exercise can simply do anywhere. Brain Gym consists of enjoyable targeted activities and processes which bring about rapid and often dramatic improvements in concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical coordination, and more.  Research studies show improvement of 50 – 86% of the time.(http://www.braingym.org/BG_Research.pdf)

Brain Gym develops the brain’s neural pathways the way nature does: through movement.

Brain Gym was started in 1969 by Paul Dennison, Ph.D. Dr. Dennison, who was then Director of California’s 8 Valley Remedial Group Learning Centers. He was looking for ways to help children and adults who had been identified as “learning disabled.” His research led him to the study of kinesiology, the science of body movement and its relationship to brain function. At the time, it was already well established that coordinated physical movement is necessary to brain development. Babies and young children naturally perform what experts in early childhood education call developmental movements. These movements develop the neural connections in the brain, which are essential to learning.  The result is a system of targeted activities that enhance performance in all areas – intellectual, creative, athletic, and interpersonal.

You start your Brain Gym with an activity, which is called PACE (positive, active, clear and energetic).  PACE consists of 4 steps, which are surprisingly simple, but very effective and these activities will help both students, adults or any person to become positive, active, clear and energetic ( PACE) for learning.


Drink Water

As Carla Hannaford says, “Water comprises most of the brain (with estimates of 90%) than of any other organ of the body.” Having students drink some water before and during class can help “grease the wheel.” Drinking water is very important before any stressful situation – tests! We tend to perspire under stress, and dehydration can affect our concentration negatively.


“Brain Buttons”

This exercise helps improve blood flow to the brain to “switch on” the entire brain before a lesson begins. The increased blood flow helps improve concentration skills required for reading, writing, etc. Put one hand so that there is as wide a space as possible between the thumb and index finger. Place your index and thumb into the slight indentations below the collar bone on each side of the sternum. Press lightly in a pulsing manner.

At the same time put the other hand over the navel area of the stomach. Gently press on these points for about 2 minutes.


“Cross Crawl”

This exercise helps coordinate right and left brain by exercising the information flow between the two hemispheres. It is useful for spelling, writing, listening, reading and comprehension. *

Stand or sit. Put the right hand across the body to the left knee as you raise it, and then do the same thing for the left hand on the right knee just as if you were marching.

Do this either sitting or standing for about 2 minutes.


“Hook Ups”

This works well for nerves before a test or special event such as making a speech. Any situation which will cause nervousness calls for a few “hook ups” to calm the mind and improve concentration. Stand or sit. Cross the right leg over the left at the ankles.

Take your right wrist and cross it over the left wrist and link up the fingers so that the right wrist is on top. Bend the elbows out and gently turn the fingers in towards the body until they rest on the sternum (breast bone) in the center of the chest. Stay in this position.

Keep the ankles crossed and the wrists crossed and then breathe evenly in this position for a few minutes. You will be noticeably calmer after that time.


 Brain Gym has been very helpful for me in my daily life routine and my practice; it also helped my children in their school work. Good luck on your exams and keeps the PACE going by wearing your thinking cap.


*The left hemisphere (1) is concerned with logical and analytical skills

*The right hemisphere (2) is the center of visual, rhythm, “artistic” abilities



“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”           Albert Einstein 1940

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