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Expert Q&A - Managing Stress and Studying Skills

ConnorConnor Posts: 433 Community Manager
edited June 9 in It's Exam Time
Hey there!

We have an Expert Q&A lined up for the the week commencing on the 7th June. This Expert Q&A is themed around exam/academic stress! Feel free to ask any questions surrounding the topic of studying, exam time, time management and other topics you can think of related to managing stress and studying. If you're unsure whether it fits, feel free to ask the question anyway!

Who are the experts?
For this Expert Q&A we'll have 3 experts weighing in! Here is some information about the experts:

Natasha Devon
Natasha Devon MBE is a writer, presenter & activist. She tours schools, universities and events throughout the UK and beyond, delivering talks as well as conducting research on mental health, body image, gender & equality. She presents on LBC 7-9pm every Saturday and writes regularly for Grazia Magazine.

Natasha is a trustee for the charity Student Minds, an ambassador for the Reading Agency a patron for No Panic, which helps people experiencing anxiety. She is a member of the Men & Boys Coalition, specifically advising on reducing male suicide rates, as well as a certified instructor for Mental Health First Aid England and eating disorder charity Beat.

In 2018, Natasha co-founded ‘Where’s Your Head At’, a campaign aimed at improving the mental health of British workers through education and law change. She is also founder of the Mental Health Media Charter, which scrutinises media reporting on mental health with the aim of reducing stigma.

She has two books: ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental: An A-Z’ and ‘Yes You Can: Ace Your Exams Without Losing Your Mind’, both published by Pan Macmillan. Her podcast ‘Staying Sane’ is available on Spotify, Acast and iTunes. Find out more at www.natashadevon.com

Ewan Richardson
Hi, I'm Ewan (he/him) and I'm 25 years old. I'm currently a PhD (DPhil) student at the University of Oxford studying Materials Science, which is a mixture of physics and engineering. I graduated from the University of York in 2018 with a 1st class Integrated Masters in Theoretical Physics (MPhys (Hons)).

The bulk of my experience is in scientific programming. Discipline and motivation is something that's always been difficult, and I have tried a variety of techniques to figure out what works best to overcome these challenges. At times I have struggled with anxiety and low mood, as well as a physical disability. Despite this, I have managed to achieve my goals and (importantly) enjoy what I do along the way. I enjoy running, hikes, going to the gym and playing chess in my spare time. It is also my lifelong ambition to own a dog!

Jacan Chaplais
Hi there, my name is Jacan. I enjoy listening to quite bad synth pop, reading science fiction and fantasy books / comics, cooking, and going on hikes. Currently, I'm doing a PhD in Physics and Computer Science at Southampton after finishing my integrated Bachelors / Masters in a similar vein in York. I love studying this stuff, but maintaining good mental health. and working out positive study strategies, has been a real challenge at times. Thankfully I've received a lot of good advice from friends and mental health professionals, which has helped me complete my undergraduate with first class (hons), and move on to pursue postgraduate research.

During my studies, I've been able to pass on some of the helpful stuff I've learned, as a tutor for GCSE and A Level students, which I have been doing for 6 years. I've loved helping young people make progress in their personal goals, and I'm very happy to be involved in this Q&A, to explore issues which might be important to you.

When?
Natasha Devon (@Natasha_D) will be joining us on the 11th June, Jacan Chaplais (@Jacanchaplais) will be joining us on the 11th June and Ewan Richardson (@Ewan_R) will join us later in the week!

Where?
The questions will be answered in this thread!

How will this work
If you have a question for an expert, you have three options! You can either write it out in this thread, PM @TheMix to have us ask the question for you, or you can fill out the anonymous question form to ask the question anonymously!
Post edited by Connor on
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Comments

  • ConnorConnor Posts: 433 Community Manager
    The anonymous question form has been added!
  • MikeMike 🖥️🎧 LandaanPosts: 3,526 Community Manager
    Thanks so much to our experts for making this possible. :3

    Any tips for people struggling to meet targets and deadlines due to the pandemic?
    All behaviour is a need trying to be met.

    Want to join the community champions? Drop @TheMix a message!
    Connor
  • independent_independent_ Resident Coffee Addict ScotlandPosts: 6,826 Master Poster
    I’m not in education anymore, but the hardest thing for me when I was was that I used to procrastinate.

    So, do you have any advice for procrastinators like me, how do you find the motivation to study?
    “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.”
    Connor
  • zaynab_5zaynab_5 LondonPosts: 1,140 Wise Owl
    How do you manage your time to study? How do you not get distracted easily?
    Connor
  • Lauren223Lauren223 Posts: 64 Boards Initiate
    Any tips about those who are working and studying at the same time? A lot of people wrongly assume it's just university students juggling work and study, but quite a lot start working before then.

    Also, how do you make a study schedule and stick to it??
    Connor
  • AnneFrypanAnneFrypan “Stay strong, your story isn’t over yet.”Posts: 289 The Mix Regular
    How early on is it advised to start revision in order to be on top of things, to cause less stress.

    The biggest thing that stresses me out is finding a way to advise, what are the best options out there to revise?
    Connor
  • ConnorConnor Posts: 433 Community Manager
    "How do you cope with exam stress?"
    LorryTruck
  • ConnorConnor Posts: 433 Community Manager
    "When I revise for a test, I think that it is going really well but then when it actually comes to answering questions in the test it goes out of my mind and then I panic. How can I manage this? Is this a lack of revision techniques, stress or am I just stupid?"
  • DancerDancer Bog Off Justine! Posts: 5,617 Part of The Furniture
    I constantly feel stressed at school when my classmates disrupt lessons and it is particularly challenging for me as an autistic young person. How can I cope with this academic stress? I don't really know who to talk to so instead I just bottle up everything.
    I'm a fruit loop. 🍊➰

    There's a part of me I can't get back.  A little girl grew up too fast. All it took was once. I'll never be the same.
    Connor
  • LorryTruckLorryTruck Definition of a mental mess and a certified lost cause :) EnglandPosts: 1,952 Extreme Poster
    edited June 9
    How do you focus on revising when there is a lot going on?
    I know you've heard this before, but you've got to be strong now...
    Connor
  • Anch0r33Anch0r33 Obnoxiously Large Anchor Somewhere in the sea 🌊Posts: 981 Part of The Mix Family
    I'm going into my 3rd of 4 years at uni and I've struggled to find the motivation. I've managed to get decent grades but I'm wondering what I can do to help keep myself engaged and motivated?

    On a totally other note - how do people choose their dissertation subject? I study English lit and theatre studies and will be writing my diss for English lit.
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  • DancerDancer Bog Off Justine! Posts: 5,617 Part of The Furniture
    Jacan- What inspired you to want to tutor GCSE and A-Level students?
    I'm a fruit loop. 🍊➰

    There's a part of me I can't get back.  A little girl grew up too fast. All it took was once. I'll never be the same.
  • DancerDancer Bog Off Justine! Posts: 5,617 Part of The Furniture
    I always find writing essays to be really difficult and stressful in exams. How do I manage my time when doing questions that involve essays? Is it easier to start with multiple choice or to start with the essay questions? For 2 of my subjects (Dance and Citizenship) there is likely to be a mixture of multiple choice, general knowledge and essay questions. This is making me feel worried.
    I'm a fruit loop. 🍊➰

    There's a part of me I can't get back.  A little girl grew up too fast. All it took was once. I'll never be the same.
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    Mike wrote: »
    Thanks so much to our experts for making this possible. :3

    Any tips for people struggling to meet targets and deadlines due to the pandemic?

    Hi Mike - I always find people like it when you go to them with solutions, or give them a clear idea of when you will deliver something. So rather than going to whoever you report to saying 'I'm struggling to meet my deadlines' instead say 'I have worked out it's realistically deliverable by [this date] and wanted to talk to you about an extension of [however many days/weeks].

    Also, everyone thinks you get more work done in lockdown but productivity can suffer when you try to multitask so make sure you switch home screen notifications off when you're working and don't have other windows (eg social media) open. It's also worth, if you're on study leave or responsible for your own timetable, working out when during the day you're most productive and capitalising on that.

    Good luck!
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    Dancer wrote: »
    I always find writing essays to be really difficult and stressful in exams. How do I manage my time when doing questions that involve essays? Is it easier to start with multiple choice or to start with the essay questions? For 2 of my subjects (Dance and Citizenship) there is likely to be a mixture of multiple choice, general knowledge and essay questions. This is making me feel worried.

    When we go into an exam, often we are in 'flight, fight or freeze' mode, because we're so nervous. I therefore think it's a good use of the first 2-5 minutes of your exam time to do a quick mindfulness breathing or visualisation exercise to bring you into the moment (there's some great apps out there with guided activities to get you into the practice of doing this). This will ensure you're calm, remember your revision and are in the best place to actually sit the exam.

    Re essays or multiple choice, it's usually recommended to do whatever is easiest for you first, to maximise the number of points you score and get your academic juices flowing. Also remember to plan your essay - just a few notes on what you intend to write in your intro, body and conclusion. That way not only will your essay have a better structure, but the examiner will be able to see where you were going if you run out of time.

    Good luck!
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    Anch0r33 wrote: »
    I'm going into my 3rd of 4 years at uni and I've struggled to find the motivation. I've managed to get decent grades but I'm wondering what I can do to help keep myself engaged and motivated?

    On a totally other note - how do people choose their dissertation subject? I study English lit and theatre studies and will be writing my diss for English lit.

    It's worth taking some time now to discover what your intrinsic motivation is. That's the thing that puts fire in your belly and you'd choose to do, even if there was no such thing as society, money, grades etc. The most common intrinsic motivations are helping others, attention, competition, socialising/connection and independence/freedom. You probably have more than one IM but one will be stronger than the others. People who understand their intrinsic motivations are not only happier (they make choices which serve their intrinsic motivators which leads to greater life satisfaction) but they can also motivate themselves to do anything by incorporating an element of their intrinsic motivation into the task (a simple example is, if you're motivated by socialising and connection, studying with friends).

    Can't help with the dissertation - hopefully one of the other experts will jump in on that but hope the above was useful!
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    LorryTruck wrote: »
    How do you focus on revising when there is a lot going on?

    My advice would be:

    1. Work out when you're most productive (morning, afternoon or evening) and set aside time to revise during the hours when you feel most focussed and engaged;
    2. Switch off notifications and close chat windows/social media during this time to keep you focussed. If possible, put your phone on flight mode/in a drawer;
    3. Include breaks every 45 minutes to an hour - This keeps your focus and concentration high. During the breaks maybe have a quick walk around the block, do some stretches, dance around your room or do a quick mindfulness activity;
    4. Depending on which you think will motivate you more, either start with your fav subject or topic to get your juices flowing and build your confidence, or leave it until last as a 'treat' after revising your least fav subject or topic.

    Hope that's helpful! Good luck
    LorryTruck
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    Connor wrote: »
    "When I revise for a test, I think that it is going really well but then when it actually comes to answering questions in the test it goes out of my mind and then I panic. How can I manage this? Is this a lack of revision techniques, stress or am I just stupid?"

    Hello - This is actually a classic 'freeze' response. So, when we go into an exam our amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for us feeling anxious) can freak out. This means we do things like want to run away, not answer the question properly or go totally blank - It's totally normal (your brain is trying to prepare you for danger - it doesn't know the difference between an exam and an angry predator). Try learning some breathing or mindfulness techniques to help bring you out of FFF at the beginning of the exam.

    Also, try doodling little pictures next to your revision notes (that relate to the content of the text in some way). Then, if you find you've gone blank you can start doodling and the pictures will hopefully jog your memory.

    Hope that's useful! Good luck!
  • Natasha_DNatasha_D Posts: 6 Expert
    I’m not in education anymore, but the hardest thing for me when I was was that I used to procrastinate.

    So, do you have any advice for procrastinators like me, how do you find the motivation to study?

    People usually don't procrastinate because they are lazy - in fact quite the opposite - there's a link between procrastination and perfectionism. Perfectionists put off the subjects they're least confident in, or suspect they won't excel at because they fear failure. The best way to overcome this is to a) recognise that this is the unconscious thought process and it's a form of self-sabotage and b) use the 'five minute rule'. Tell yourself you'll just do 5 minutes of whatever you're dreading. Often, it's not as bad in reality as it was in our imaginations (we're good at catastrophising) and you'll want to carry on. I know this works as it's how I make myself exercise!
    independent_
  • DancerDancer Bog Off Justine! Posts: 5,617 Part of The Furniture
    Thank you for answering my question to do with the essay. I have another question for you.

    I keep on thinking that I will have a panic attack in an exam particularly with all the stress and pressure that is piled on to me as a GCSE student. How do I cope with this? I am already going to be doing my exams in a different room to everyone else and I have 25% extra time (but that is for a different reason.)
    I'm a fruit loop. 🍊➰

    There's a part of me I can't get back.  A little girl grew up too fast. All it took was once. I'll never be the same.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    Dancer wrote: »
    I constantly feel stressed at school when my classmates disrupt lessons and it is particularly challenging for me as an autistic young person. How can I cope with this academic stress? I don't really know who to talk to so instead I just bottle up everything.

    Hi Dancer,

    So I'm also an autistic person, and I knooow, it can be so stressful! It sounds like you're at college / school, and unfortunately support for neurodivergent students tends not to be fantastic, but here are some things which helped me at school (and stuff I wish I'd thought of at the time).

    First of all, a basic one: stim purposefully. If the people around you are making it hard for you to control your sensory input, it can be very comforting to have a fidget toy with you, or an action which engages your senses in a way you can control. For me, that means drumming my fingers on my leg. Maybe take your teacher to one side to explain that you need to do it to self-regulate if you're nervous they'll point it out. It may also be a good idea to discuss with them being able to step outside, or having somewhere to go if things get too much, as having an autistic meltdown / shutdown can have a long lasting effect.

    Secondly, don't be afraid to tell your school that your needs aren't being met. You will have some enabling services reps at school, so you can go to them and bring it up if you aren't being adequately accommodated.

    As far as the academic stress is concerned, that really depends on what part of the process stresses you out. If you're stressed by running out of time, then read an exam paper through once before answering and highlight the questions easiest (circle), medium (square), hardest (triangle). Do the easiest first to pick up the majority of the marks, then do medium and hardest to get the most thinking time on the harder questions (you'll be processing it subconsciously while you run through the easier questions). I don't have any other major advice without specifics as to what you find stressful, but make sure you cover your basics: stay hydrated, eat well beforehand, and get a good night of sleep.

    Hope this helps. :)

    Jacan.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    zaynab_5 wrote: »
    How do you manage your time to study? How do you not get distracted easily?

    I think this applies to this question, but also a lot of the other questions about motivation and distraction.

    Blockers! The main thing people get distracted by is the internet, or games. You can't guarantee that you'll never find your work boring, difficult, or tedious - it will be all of those things at times. Then you have to exercise enormous amounts of willpower to stay on the unpleasant thing, when you could lose yourself in scrolling or something for a bit. I don't know about you guys, but I can't trust my willpower to always (or even often) be enough. The best thing for me and most people I work with is to cut out the access to distractions. There are lots of free apps, and some fairly sophisticated paid ones, but the good ones have "Strict Modes" or something similar, which don't let you uninstall or switch off the app while it's running, and persist even when you restart your computer. I personally paid for mine, because for what it gives me, it was well worth the money!

    For Desktop I use ColdTurkey, and for my phone I use AppBlock (although I hear they've adopted a very expensive subscription model - when I got it, there was a one time purchase - may not be worth it any more).

    Hope it helps,
    Jacan.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    Lauren223 wrote: »
    Any tips about those who are working and studying at the same time? A lot of people wrongly assume it's just university students juggling work and study, but quite a lot start working before then.

    Also, how do you make a study schedule and stick to it??

    Hey Lauren223,

    It does depend a lot on your situation. In my case, My hours were flexible and I could pick up more or drop some if I needed. There were definitely times when I needed cashflow more than other times, and so I couldn't be so choosey.

    For me, my focus gets polluted if I have to switch contexts too frequently and can't stay on one thing for long enough. My solution to that was to organise my teaching so it was all in one block of back to back lessons, and only do it twice a week after I was done with my studies for those days.

    Other than that follow your instincts: if you can reduce your hours and think you could get by, and you would be able to better handle your studies, you probably should; if you need the money, and you can afford to take a bit of time away from studying, go for it. If you get to a point when you don't have enough money, and you don't have the time or mental health reserves to work and study at the same time, I'd seek out some help. There's financial aid available to students struggling, I'm not sure about nationally, but your bursar and student union should have information on that.

    Hope this helps!
    Jacan.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    AnneFrypan wrote: »
    How early on is it advised to start revision in order to be on top of things, to cause less stress.

    The biggest thing that stresses me out is finding a way to advise, what are the best options out there to revise?

    Hi AnneFrypan,

    I don't make much of a distinction between revision and studying, to be honest, and I think you should be studying as soon as you can. Here's my suggestions:
    Start off by reading your specifications (published online by your exam boards) and highlight the points by considering if you were asked a question based on them. Colour them
    1. red: if you don't think you'd be able to pick up any marks (except by fluke)
    2. yellow: if you think you could pick up a handful (40%+) of the marks, but definitely not all
    3. green: if you think you would get full marks, barring an odd silly mistake (we all make them!)

    That will give you a sense of what topics you should study first (the red ones) and last (the green ones), then you can try to link them together and put them in some order you like. Then, at the start of each week, try to make a ballpark estimate of how long you will have to study outside of contact / school hours. For example, maybe you'll have 2 hours per evening between getting home and unwinding for a bit, and dinner time, and perhaps you want to do 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday, so that's 5 * 2 + 2 * 3 = 16 hours. If you like, you can then pre-allocate that time to your subjects, so you spend more on the ones you find hardest, eg. if chemistry is harder than maths, maybe spend 30% of your time on chemistry and only 10% on maths, etc.

    As you study, I recommend following the advice in these great videos!
    Advice on reading textbooks
    Note taking strategies

    The Cornell note system sets you up really well for revision, and can easily be converted to flashcards, which brings me to my next tip - MAKE FLASHCARDS AS YOU GO! Anki is an excellent desktop and mobile app for this (I think the iOS one is paid, but all other versions are free). It uses spaced repetition to make sure the cards go into long term memory, it's a life-saver!

    Hope this helps,
    Jacan.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    Connor wrote: »
    "When I revise for a test, I think that it is going really well but then when it actually comes to answering questions in the test it goes out of my mind and then I panic. How can I manage this? Is this a lack of revision techniques, stress or am I just stupid?"

    Hi there,

    I highly doubt it reflects your intelligence at all! But this is a common problem, and it usually is indicative of lack of preparation. The fact you understand it when reviewing the material beforehand suggests you don't have any comprehension problems, but answering questions takes a lot of practice, and often isn't prioritised by students. Do lots and lots of practice questions!

    I actually had this issue myself when I was in my first year of A Levels, I thought I understood everything, but got an E in my exams. The next year I committed to answering every darn question in all 4 of my maths textbooks (I retook my first year classes at the same time as my second year ones) and ended up getting an A*. I just needed to make the transition away from thinking I understood because I could follow a good explanation, to making sure I could actually solve anything that was put in front of me, because I'd solved and marked thousands of similar questions myself, beforehand.

    Hope this helps,
    Jacan.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    Dancer wrote: »
    Jacan- What inspired you to want to tutor GCSE and A-Level students?

    I just really love talking about science, and needed the money haha. It was a lot of fun, would recommend. Seeing my students go on to succeed has been so rewarding.
  • jacanchaplaisjacanchaplais Posts: 7 Expert
    Thanks for the questions everyone, hope you all have successful exam seasons!
    Jacan.
  • MikeMike 🖥️🎧 LandaanPosts: 3,526 Community Manager
    edited June 12
    A few more anonymous questions:
    How to cope if you're relapsing during your exam period?
    At what point should I consider dropping out of uni for my mental health? I can't help thinking I'm fighting a losing battle right now (anxiety and depression) even with student support, but I'd feel like a failure and like all this work would have been for nothing. I don't know what to do.
    what are some good ways to break up time and fit in breaks when working?
    It's the end of the week so not sure whether we'll be able to fully explore these, but we'll do our best!
    All behaviour is a need trying to be met.

    Want to join the community champions? Drop @TheMix a message!
  • Ewan_REwan_R Posts: 4 Expert
    edited June 12
    At what point should I consider dropping out of uni for my mental health? I can't help thinking I'm fighting a losing battle right now (anxiety and depression) even with student support, but I'd feel like a failure and like all this work would have been for nothing. I don't know what to do.
    I'm sorry to hear you're going through a tough time. There were definitely times during my undergraduate where I considered dropping out. Something I think that is important to remind yourself is that if you drop out, your life will continue afterwards and you're not a failure. In fact, if dropping out is the correct thing to do, it's incredibly brave. Your friends and family may not agree, but ultimately it may be the best thing to do, and it's great that you are prioritising your mental health over your degree. After all, your mental health is far more important. In fact, for me, it helped lower my stress at tough points knowing that dropping out was a viable option.

    That said, it's really difficult for me to say whether dropping out is best for you, it's something only you yourself can figure out. Have you exhausted all options for student support? It's also important to be honest with your department about how you're feeling, and they may open up more options for you. For example, after a bad exam, I went to the doctor's and told them how anxious I was. I was then able to get a doctor's note and retake some of my exams in the summer, which really helped take the stress off for me.

    What I've also continuously learned is that you can't study effectively without a strong base. By that I mean if you're struggling to get out of bed on a given day (I've been there myself) how can you expect yourself to sit down and engage with study? What worked for me was working on aspects like sleep (sleep hygiene in particular - well worth looking into, but consists of stuff like consistent wakeup times and avoiding screens around bedtime), diet and exercise. I would also look into counselling as an option, and I'd advise you not to give up on the idea if you have a negative first experience with one. For example, the counsellor at my undergrad university didn't fit with me at all; she felt patronising and the experience wasn't positive. But, the counsellor at my post-grad university was great, she listens and I have really benefited from time with her, so don't be afraid to change counsellors if one isn't working out for you.

    One final thing, depending on your circumstances, is that it is possible to apply for a year out (returning to your degree program a year later). If you think this option is the best for you, I'd advise having a conversation with a relevant member of your department. It may be that you need time to focus on your mental health and get into a better spot before studying.
  • Ewan_REwan_R Posts: 4 Expert
    edited June 12
    How to cope if you're relapsing during your exam period?
    Hi there. Not sure exactly what you mean by relapse, but I'm guessing it's something to do with your mental health. First of all, your mental health and safety is your first priority. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional if you haven't already. If you're at a point where you can't cope with the exams, I'd advise talking with someone at your school/ department and see what the best option is moving forward. In special circumstances, it may be possible to retake exams.

    This is more general advice to reduce exam stress, which may or may not help, depending on your situation. Looking after yourself during exam season is very important. Make sure you're getting the best quality sleep you can (look into sleep hygiene), keeping hydrated and eating properly, as well as exercising. Making time for all this will help you perform better on the day compared to locking yourself in your room for hours cramming for the exam. What helped me personally to reduce exam stress was going for walks, especially when the weather is nice. For me, it put my exams into perspective and allowed me to enjoy a bit of nature.
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