Stressed about Exams?

The Dial is here to help!

By Pat Walker and Claire Sukhman

Exams are a taxing time for everyone and can easily cause excessive stress and worry for Hackley Upper School students throughout February and into March. We talked to our own Director of Health and Wellness, Charles Colten, for some of his tips on how to stay organized and focused during these hectic weeks in February.

He’s a fan of the “deliberate practice” method; he recommends that students should study bits and pieces of the guided material each night as opposed to trying to cram everything the night before. This method helps students absorb the material in order to make sure it sticks. Another method he suggests is “chunking,” or dividing up work and breaks into units of time to relieve stress and enhance productivity in preparation for the upcoming exams. “Important research also shows that exercise significantly improves academic success. It oxygenates the brain and relieves stress, both of which improve performance,” said Mr. Colten.

To reduce stress levels as much as possible, students should figure out which techniques and strategies work best for the individual and employ them: “Identify your strategy and do it regularly. Put it on your schedule, set an alert on your phone, and do it,” said Mr. Colton Some strategies that Mr. Colten recommends are exercise, listening to music, taking a shower or bath, taking a walk, meditation techniques, yoga, and laughter. “It is important to recognize that a certain amount of stress can be good for your success in exams but that too much reduces your performance. Any stressor to your biological system will impact your brain and fortunately, you can control some of them,” he said. Dr. Karen Reivich, a leader in the field of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, noted that “the antidote to anxiety is purposeful action.”

It is important to recognize that a certain amount of stress can be good for your success in exams but that too much reduces your performance. Any stressor to your biological system will impact your brain and fortunately, you can control some of them.”

— Mr. Colten

Mr. Colten is around before and during exams, and always places students as his top priority. He is available for sessions with individuals and small groups, as well as full-size workshops. Grab a group of friends, pick a time you are free, and reach out to him at [email protected]

“Take action…book it…let’s practice,” said Mr. Colten.

Several seniors also had helpful tips on how they stay productive, which they have gained through years of experience with exams here at Hackley.

When to begin studying for exams is a big topic of debate in our Upper School. Senior Grace Carroll starts studying about two weeks before exams, while senior Will Larkin says the amount of time he spends studying differs, depending on the subject. “I’m pretty good at history, so I don’t start studying until a week and a half before the exam. For math, I’ll start studying two and a half weeks before because I’m not as strong there,” he said.

Senior Alexander Delia agrees. He recommends trying to stay as organized as possible. “I try to do as much work as possible in the weeks leading up, and then get a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast,” he said

For underclassmen who are nervous about starting this process, senior Ally Pettiti suggests they could “try not to study for too many things at once, so you can make sure that you don’t study the things that you already know,” and “narrow it down to the things you are having trouble on.”

Study aids can sometimes be helpful to change up the way students review and can be essential to absorb the material better. Senior Nur Momani uses study guides, flashcards, and Quizlet to help her review for history. Ally finds that by “go[ing] through all of [her] notes and rewrit[ing] them,” she can memorize things better. After she writes everything out, she will take a day off and then go back and reread it. “I’ll star the things that I know and circle things I don’t know so that I can go back and go over those things again,” said Ally.

To combat the stress that comes with exam weeks, Hackley has a “Stress-Down Day”, where things like dark chocolate and tea are available in the Grille Room and students can dress down.

Junior Kristen Bringsjord said that she thinks “all of the days [of review and exams] should be dress down days, because then [she] can focus more on studying and doing well on [her] exams than trying to look nice for school.” Junior Kevin Kim added that “it’s cool, but the whole concept of [the Stress-Down Day] is pointless.” However, many students agreed that the way the exam schedule is structured is helpful and makes studying for all these tests much easier.