From Stress to Success: Tips for Exam Writing

Written by Rod Anderson,
Instructor, Academic Success Series

Managing stress is tough and challenging.
But, with the right habits, attitude, and enough desire (HAD), we can take our stress and turn it to our advantage.

Stress isn’t bad, in fact it’s a very necessary part of life. The trick is managing it properly and finding the right life balance. When we find this balance, stress becomes a great ally, providing us with a higher level of focus, motivation, and energy.  Stress management is a skill. You can get better at it through good habits and good practice, just like math and English.


Let’s begin by looking at what stress is. One simple definition is that stress is “feeling out of control.” When it takes hold it can actually downshift your brain or even make you feel stupid. But, it really isn’t a problem unless it accumulates. It’s very important to have stress-busters built into your life-style, for example: exercise, fun hobbies, time in nature, deep breathing, friends, pets, yoga, laughter, meditation, etc.

Two top stress management tools are: deep breathing and good preparation.

Deep breathing is your superpower! It’s the number one stress management tool. Practice it. It’s available wherever you are and it’s free! You can use it while you’re studying, in the elevator, driving to your exam, or in the middle of your exam. Two breathing techniques to calm, refocus, and rejuvenate are:

  1. Inhale through your nostrils, see how few breaths you can take in one minute
  2. Inhale your blessings, exhale your gratitude

Good preparation is your antidote to exam anxiety, and the key to great marks! Start with ‘REDS’: your rest, exercise, diet, and support system are big mark-getters. They will provide the foundation for your stress management and your health.



I like the saying: 80% of your success occurs before you walk in the door. In your preparation for your exam, use good strategies, the right attitudes, and bring enough desire. You must want good marks in order to get them. Show up ready to succeed!

Examples of effective study strategies/attitudes include:

  1. 30+5: use a study cycle of 30 minutes of intensive study, then take 5 minutes off to relax, recover, and process information. Then repeat.
  2. 15%: when highlighting, be strategic—no more than 15% of the page/notes. Only highlight key words and phrases. Most words are extraneous. Too much highlighting is counterproductive and will overwhelm your brain.
  3. Lighten up: think of getting good marks as a game; don’t take yourself too seriously. Try to have fun with it and remember to smile 🙂


Finally, tap into purpose power. Remember why you’re doing all this hard work and imagine the results you want. It works!

You have everything you need inside you now, you just have to believe it and then do it. Best of luck and go get some great marks!

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