Relaxation Exercise for Exam Anxiety

Learning to relax will help you reduce tension, nervousness and anxiety. It is simply not possible to be very anxious, tense or nervous when your body is completely relaxed.

Try to get as relaxed as possible in a short time. As you practice relaxing, you will find that you will become better and better at it and will be able to develop a relaxed state very quickly. This exercise is meant to give you practice until you can relax quickly and easily without any instructions.

Read through the following relaxation exercise, or better yet, have someone else read it to you while you do the drill. Then you can do the same for a classmate. Still another possibility is to tape record the exercise, making it a more permanent record:

Sit back in a chair and get as comfortable as possible. Before you begin to relax, notice all the little pressures and tensions in your body. Check your feet and legs. Do they feel completely loose and relaxed? Now your head. Are there strains in your neck muscles or jaws?

Close your eyes and try to relax all the tension you found. Breathe normally and concentrate on feeling heavy all over. You should feel more calm and relaxed than you did a few minutes ago.

Now work up to a deeper level or relaxation. You will have to locate the tensions and systematically remove them. First, try to tense every muscle in your body, from your head to your toes, jaws tight, neck tight and still, forehead wrinkled and tense, arms and hands tense, fists clenched, stomach and chest muscles tight, legs and feet tensed. You should be tense all over. Hold that tension for another moment and then let go all over. Breathe normally and feel the wave or relaxation spread through your body. You may feel a kind of warm glow or slightly tingling sensation as the relaxations flows in. Relax as completely as possible. Concentrate on feeling heavy in your chair. Notice the lack of tension everywhere in your body.

Now find all the remaining tensions in your body and remove them. Keep the rest of your body as relaxed as before, but tighten up your toes and your foot muscles. Notice the tension in your toes, the tops of your feet, and the sides of your ankles. Now relax your feet completely. Notice the contrast. Now tense the same muscles again, hold it now, relax. Feel the relaxation. Note the heaviness of your feet. Now keep all the rest of your body relaxed while you tense your leg and thigh muscles. Feel your legs rise a little as your thigh muscles tighten. The backs of your legs should be hard and tight. Hold that tension for a moment and then relax. Notice the heaviness in your legs and thighs. Your whole body should be limp and at rest in the chair.

Tighten your stomach muscles. Notice that you feel like you do when you are anxious or angry or in a tense or dangerous situation. Hold the tension for a moment and then relax. Repeat that again. Tense the muscles, hold it, and then relax.

Do the same with your chest muscles. Notice that when you tense your chest muscles, the tension goes up into your shoulders and upper arms. Hold it for a minute and then relax. Again, tense and relax. Again tense. Again relax. You should now be relaxed all over. Check to be sure that the rest of your body is relaxed and loose.

Clench your right fist and tense your arm muscles-forearms and biceps. Hold the tension in the right hand and arm and tense the left fist and arm. Tighten both more. Study the tension. Locate it in each arm. Hold it. Now relax. Straighten out your fingers and let the comfortable, loose, restful feeling flow into your arms, hands and the rest of your body. One more time. Tense both hands and arms and hold it. Now let go and relax.

Tighten your face and neck muscles. Close your eyes, wrinkle your forehead, and tighten your jaws with your teeth together. Hold it for a moment and then relax. Try it again with all the same muscles, tight jaws, tight neck muscles, tense all the way down into the back. Relax. Notice all the changes as you relax. Your forehead and scalp smooth, your lips and jaws relax, your mouth is open a little, your shoulders are loose and free to move.

Relax your chest, shoulders arms and hands. Relax all the neck muscles, jaws and face, and the scalp muscles. Keep relaxing your whole body. It feels loose, heavy, calm quiet and at rest.

Increase the relaxation by taking a really deep breath and exhaling slowly. Close your eyes and notice how you become less aware of anything but your own hushed, mellow, comfort. You feel like soft velvet-tranquil, peaceful and serene. You blend into the chair. You feel placid and gentle, unwilling to move a muscle. Just raising your arm would be an effort. Even thinking about it is an effort. Drop back into the comfort, relax the slight tensions in your arms.

Now you are all quiet and relaxed. You can observe the lack of tension all through your body. Now try to become more relaxed. Try to become more relaxed each time you breathe out. Notice the deeper and deeper relaxation as you become calm and serene.

You can continue relaxing this way for as long as you wish. When you are ready to get up, simply count backwards (5-4-3-2-1), open your eyes and notice that you are refreshed, calm and wide awake. You feel fine.

Suggestions for Use of Relaxation Techniques

Once you have learned the relaxation routine, you can use it before a study session. Before beginning to study for a test, sit in a comfortable chair and go through the relaxation drill. Once you are feeling comfortable, proceed to your desk. During the study session, stop if you feel tension or anxiety creeping into your body. Turn away from the books and relax. Work on the areas of tension until your body feels calm again.

You can, of course, also do the relaxation drill before an exam or during it. When you sit down to take an exam, quickly relax your body. If during the exam you are side-tracked by tension, take a few seconds and use relaxation as a first-aid measure. In this situation, you can only relax those areas in which you are tense, such as your neck, shoulders or back. Take a deep breath, hold it for ten or fifteen seconds and slowly let it out. It is both a mind-clearer and a body relaxer.

Here is something else to practice. When you are relaxing in a chair before studying, try to form a mental picture of yourself sitting in a chair in a classroom taking a test. Take a mental and physical measurement of your body?s tension when you see this scene. Relax those areas which feel tense when you see and think about yourself in the test situation. See yourself again in the classroom. Take a new measurement and do some more relaxation. Continue to alternate these two items, relaxation and visualization of yourself in the test situation, until the measurement of yourself in the testing scene registers “comfortable.”

How to Study History

When studying for a history course, begin with the general topic or theme and then focus on the key people, ideas and events.

You don’t need to know every detail, but you should understand the important elements. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal had many programs that were developed over the course of his presidency, but students don’t need to know them all. Instead, they should recognize the basic purpose of the New Deal – it had two parts, the period from 1933 to 1935 was designed to offer immediate relief to the public and help the economy recover; the period from 1935 to 1941 produced long-term reforms to ensure a stronger economy.

Students should then learn the importance of two or three programs in each part. Also recognize that the years of the New Deal programs help clarify their purpose. Students don’t need to know the specific date of every event but should use them as guideposts.

The trick is taking something complicated and simplifying it in a way that makes sense. That is basically what an instructor or a textbook author is trying to do when they present material (eg, creating a list to show the causes of the Civil War or the Great Depression).

Finally, never hesitate to ask questions. Students are often reluctant to ask things of the instructor in class, but in doing so, everyone benefits. Other options are to ask classmates or see the instructor at his or her office.

Tips for Taking Notes

The following guidelines are modified from a list created by Jules R. Benjamin in A Student’s Guide to History:

  1. Write the lecture topic and date.
  2. Be selective – don’t try to write everything down.
  3. Write down things the instructor a) puts on the board (including things on powerpoint), b) emphasizes, and c) says is important.
  4. Always ask questions – if the instructor goes too fast, ask him or her to slow down; if anything isn’t clear, say so.  NEVER leave class uncertain about anything from the lecture or discussion!!
  5. Reread your notes to ensure that things are clear and you understand them.

Tips for Discussion

  1. Read the material and come to class prepared!  Don’t assume you can browse the document during the discussion.
  2. Try to understand three basic elements of the reading – What is it about?  Why is it important?  How does it improve our understanding of a topic?
  3. What questions do the documents raise?

Tips for Preparing and Taking an Essay Exam

The key is to find a way to organize the material so it doesn’t seem overwhelming. 

  1. Begin by focusing on the topics listed on the schedule.
  2. Organize each of the topics.  If the instructor has created a list of things to remember in class (eg, nine causes of the Great Depression), use them; otherwise organize topically or chronologically.
  3. Don’t try to remember everything – consider key issues, events, and people.
  4. When writing the exam, a) focus on the question, b) don’t generalize, c) present an argument and support it with specific evidence.
  5. Ultimately, remember that a test is a test.  It’s designed to show what you’ve learned – be as thorough as possible.

 

How to Read a Text Book

Reading a textbook is more than just silently reading and turning pages. It demands an active reading approach.

These steps will assist you in developing such an approach. Although active reading take more time, it doesn’t take much more time and will pay off in your performance in the classroom, on exams, and will greatly reduce your time spent in reviewing material the night before an exam.

Step 1. Preview the chapter.
Previewing the chapter is like looking over a road map prior to traveling. By previewing you will be able to identify how long it will take, how difficult or easy it will be to read, at what point you will want to take a break, as well as what you should expect to learn. Previewing is accomplished through the following activities.

  • Read the titles, heading and subheadings. What do these mean and how are they presented?
  • Read the introductions. What is expected to be covered? What is the purpose of each section?
  • Read through the summary. What are the main points of the chapter?
  • Note any graphs, charts, and/or pictures. What do these mean? How are they being used?
  • Note any important and/or unfamiliar terms or concepts. What needs to be known about these terms or concepts?

Step 2. Identify your questions.
After previewing the chapter what questions do you have? Make sure they are more meaningful than just yes or no questions. Turn the titles, headings and subheading in to what, when, why, who, and how questions.Your questions need to be more meaningful than simple yes or no questions. Your instructor may have provided you with questions as well.WRITE YOUR QUESTION DOWN!Chances are you will forget them as you begin to read. Also continue asking and writing down question while you read.

Step 3. Reading.
The goal of reading is to gather the information necessary to answer your questions and understand the course material. Read one section at a time. Use markers (sticky tabs, check marks, highlighters, etc) and write your own notes in the margins to identify important points. Schedule reading breaks after completing a section or after reading for some amount of time in order to keep you from reader’s fatigue.

Step 4. Repeat and reread.
Don’t expect to know it because you read it once. Just as reading was all about gathering the information, repeating and rereading is about understanding and remembering the information. After reading a section close your book, pretend a little troll is standing at your side pulling at your arm, asking “What’d it say? What’d it say??” If you can answer the little troll, you got it!

If you have blanks in your response to the troll, you need to reread the section for better understanding. Write down your understanding of the information you read in your own words. Go back and reread the section to make sure your understanding is correct. If there are any questions after repeating and rereading, these would be good to bring to class.

How to Form a Study Group

  1. Limit the people in your group to no more than 4 or 5 people.
    If you have too many people it’s harder to find times when you can all get together to meet. It also makes it harder to keep everyone focused on the study topic if there’s too many people.
  2. Choose people who are serious about mastering the subject matter.
    This shouldn’t be a social gathering – treat it as a study lab. Make set times to meet each week and limit the time to one hour (you will be less likely to goof off or visit if you have a designated study time.) Save visiting until after the study session.
  3. Make a study lesson plan.
    Choose a topic to review each week. Have each group member bring in questions that they have about the topic. Review each person’s questions during the session. Make sure the person understands the answers to his/her questions if at all possible. Keep the lists of questions to use to review for exams.
  4. Decide how often the group will meet.
    Pick a date, time and place and stick to it. If you change times and places to meet it gets too confusing and you may have group members who miss the study session.
  5. Pick a group leader who can guide the study session and help keep everyone on track. 
  6. Make any rules for the group when you first start.
    Will it be no smoking; how do you want to handle situations where someone is disruptive in the study group; how do you want to proceed if a group member shows up for the meeting late or comes unprepared for the study session? These are questions to be established from the start. Then every group member knows what is expected of them from the beginning.

How to Write an Outline

Many students struggle when required to write an outline for something and frequently they make it much more difficult a task than it really is.

But if you have never had to make an outline for something, the following tips and suggestions may be helpful.

What is an outline?

An outline is a plan on how to present specific material or summarizes material from research.  It is typically used for organizing material for a speech, course or research paper but occasionally professors will request students to outline chapter or textbook material as an assignment.  An outline shows the order of the topics, their importance and relationship to each other.  It is a way to break down material into parts. This information is directed toward a student preparing for a composition paper or speech.

What kind of outlines are there?

There are two main types of outlines; one is the topic outline where your heading and subparts are generally written as a phrase or in a word or two.  The second type of outline is a sentence outline where every entry is written as a complete sentence.

How do I know how to make an outline?

When writing an outline most students use alternating series of numbers and letters to indicate main topics, supporting information. How you arrange the information may depend on your topic and the assignment.  Sometimes using a chronological order works well if you are listing reasons for something or giving a sequential account of something.  Other times you may be summarizing how different things are related to a topic and showing that relationship may work better.  Most students use a more common way of outlining that allows the writer to go from general information to specific details about the topic.

What is a thesis statement and where does it belong in the outline?

The thesis statement is the first section of the outline.  It is an introduction to what your paper or presentation are about and sets the stage for the listener or reader.  The thesis statement is the central idea of the paper and it is recommended that be written as a complete sentence so you don’t have to come back to eat and keep rewriting it.  The thesis statement should indicate the point of view or argument that you are making regarding the topic.

What does an outline look like?

An outline can be as extensive and detailed as the material you are outlining requires but note the following example:

  1. Main topic Thesis sentence
  2. Point #1
    1. supporting information
      1. why is it relative
      2. example
    2. additional supporting information
      1. relativity
      2. example
        1. main point to explain example
        2. definition of terms
        3. why it is important
  3. Point #2 etc.

If you have a main topic – I.  for example, then there must be a II. If you have a subheading of capital A, then you must have a subheading of a capital B. If you have numbers below each subheading then you must have at least two subheadings for each area. Depending on your assignment and the length of your paper will determine how many main points and subheadings you will need. However, each heading and subheading must have at least two parts to it.

There are many resources online that give tips for writing specific types of outlines. For example there are outlines that explain how to write an outline for a five paragraph essay, how to write outlines in a specific format such as APA style, writing outlines for research papers, scripts, short stories, etc. For more specific information check out several websites with information about writing outlines.  As always when using the internet for research information, make sure that you are using a credible site that isn’t just putting forth someone’s personal opinion as opposed to information that you can trust for research purposes.

Are You Sleep Deprived?

Getting enough rest is one of the biggest challenges for college students to overcome.

There are always assignments to work on, tests to study for, research in the library, social invitations and myriad of other responsibilities students face every day. Some students seem to cope with this challenge well and find a balance that allows them to live a healthy life. But others struggle with finding this balance and soon find themselves, exhausted, overwhelmed, have difficulty coping with everyday life at the university. Two big reasons this happens to students is that they don’t eat right and they don’t get enough rest. Following are some questions to ask yourself if you are getting enough rest and the right kind of rest.

Cornell University psychologist James Maas reports that college students suffer the consequences of sleeping less than they should.

The Sleep Quiz

To see if you are getting enough rest answer the following true/false questions:

  1. I need an alarm clock in order to wake me at the appropriate time.
  2. It’s a struggle for me to get out of bed in the morning.
  3. Weekday mornings I hit the snooze button several times to get more sleep.
  4. I feel tired, irritable, and stressed out during the week.
  5. I have trouble concentrating and remembering.
  6. I feel slow with critical thinking, problem solving, and being creative.
  7. I often fall asleep watching t.v.
  8. I often fall asleep at boring meetings or lectures or in warm rooms.
  9. I often fall asleep after heavy meals or after a low dose of alcohol.
  10. I often fall asleep while relaxing after dinner.
  11. I often fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed.
  12. I often feel drowsy while driving.
  13. I often sleep extra hours on weekend mornings.
  14. I often need a nap to get through the day.
  15. I have dark circles around my eyes.

If you answered “true” to three or more items, you probably are not getting enough sleep. To determine your sleep needs, Maas recommends that you – go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual every night for the next week. Continue this practice by adding 15 more minutes each week until you wake without an alarm clock and feel alert through the day.

Sleep helps restore and repair brain tissue. IT helps us remember the day’s experiences. People can recall tasks or information better after a night’s sleep than after several hours awake. It has been shown that after working on a project, then sleeping on it, people solve problems more insightfully.

Natural Ways to Fall Asleep

  • Relax before bedtime and spend some time with the lights dimmed.
  • Avoid caffeine at dinner and in the evenings.
  • Sleep on a regular schedule – try and get to bed each night at about the same time and awake at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid taking naps.
  • Exercise regularly but avoid exercise just before bedtime.

Other Ways to Stay Healthy

  • Eat regular meals and eat healthy (don’t skip meals or substitute soda and a candy bar or chips for a meal).
  • Spend 10 or 15 minutes two or three times a day relaxing and clearing your mind.
  • Practice time management and organization skills so that you don’t get overwhelmed by your day-to-day responsibilities.

The sleep quiz by James B. Mass, Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind and Body for Peak Performance. New York: Harper Collins 1999.