Study Skills & Stress-Busting

Maybe you’re a university student with an essay crisis on your hands. Perhaps you’re a school pupil worried about exams. You could be a mature student feeling a bit rusty. Or you might be a parent with a son or daughter in difficulty.

Or maybe nothing much is wrong but you just want to study more productively. And you can. The good news is that with a little know-how and some guidance, most students can learn to work extremely efficiently and boost their grades across the board.

The study skills I can show you are extremely helpful. I learnt them when I was at university. They don’t take long to learn. They cut my workload by at least 30%. What’s more, I sat my exams in a very relaxed way, confident that I could remember everything.

Now I teach these techniques to my students. They’re also described in my book The Student’s Guide to Exam Success, and in the e-books on this site. They include:

  • Learning theory
  • Time management
  • Essay planning
  • Memory tricks
  • Mindmapping
  • Note-taking
  • Speedreading
  • Exam technique… and more.

These study skills can transform the way you work.

Tackling stress

Equally important to many students is the ability to tackle stress. You will benefit from learning some stress-busting technique if you recognise yourself in some of the statements below:

  • If I fail or underperform, I have no future
  • I’ve lost my confidence now
  • I’ve got to do my best
  • I’ve got to be the best
  • I’ve left it all too late
  • I nearly walked out of the exam
  • I just want to give up
  • I have no idea what to say
  • I keep losing concentration
  • I went blank in the exam
  • I’m doing resits but I don’t understand why I failed
  • I’d be ashamed of getting a C

Such thoughts can really get in the way of your study success. There are various ways in which I help with this. Sometimes a student just needs a bit of space to talk. In addition I offer a variety of approaches, according to students’ personal preferences. Here are a few favourites:


Emotional Freedom Techniques can be helpful when an emotional block or a traumatic memory is blocking progress. The technique involves tapping on acupressure points to dispel emotional blocks. It can work very fast.

For instance, after one or two rounds of tapping, I have seen students suddenly look forward to tasks they had previously been dreading. One of my students felt very relieved when EFT lifted away a fear of underperformance that had been plaguing him for a year. He described feeling as if he had taken ‘academic Prozac’.

With a high success rate estimated at 85%, I find it works with most students who are interested in giving it a go.

Like everything I teach, EFT is a self-help technique that you can learn to do on your own.

Questioning thoughts

This is a process derived from the excellent Work of Byron Katie, where you single out worrying thoughts, and look closely and carefully at whether they really hold water.

Education involves learning to question propaganda, and there is no shortage of hype about education! So knowing what to believe about education, especially where it relates to one’s own studies, is an essential skill. Without this skill, young people understandably take on what they hear around them, even though it may be very stressful and not even hold true for them.

For instance, many aspiring medical students are repeatedly and emphatically told that they must get the very best A-levels in order to qualify for medical school. This makes some too anxious to study well – some will even grow sick with worry. The truth is that medical schools don’t necessarily reject resitters or students who failed to get top grades, for instance in years when there is a shortage of A-grades, as was the case in summer 2018.

The relief of finding out what’s really true can be a liberation for many students, and a relieved, liberated student performs better in revision and exams.

Focus wheel

A focus wheel is a way to shift your thinking so that you focus less on what you don’t want and more on what you actually do want, thereby making it more likely to come true.

For instance, you may crave certain grades, but fear that they are out of your reach, and so every time you think of revising, your dominant thought is one of incompetence, which keeps putting you off. Envisioning success would enable you to work, and thus make success possible, but you just can’t do it because your focus is so stuck on what could go wrong.

A process offered by Abraham-Hicks, focus wheels are quick to learn and can transform grades, for instance in cases where the student knows their subject-matter but, perhaps as a result of an experience of past failure, needs a way to start feeling capable again.

The scale of emotions

Also drawn from Abraham-Hicks, the scale of emotions is such a fundamental teaching for students that I must explain it right here and now.

Simply put, it explains our emotions as a crucial barometer that shows whether our thinking is working for or against us.

Here’s how it works for students. Prior to exams, it’s not uncommon to be overtaken by dispiriting thoughts like, ‘I can’t do exams.’ ‘I should have studied more but I’ve left it all too late.’ ‘I’m going to mess up my life’.

One after the other, these thoughts bring on depression, guilt and fear – all heavy, energy-sapping emotions that hog the lowest depths of the emotional scale. Unless you know how to escape, they will keep dragging you down.

Against popular advice, this is not the best time to try to cheer up.  Joy sits at the highest end of the emotional scale. When you’re wallowing in guilt, it’s simply not within reach. However, there is something you can grab hold of, and that’s anger.

It seems strange that anyone would recommend resorting to such a potentially dangerous emotion, but anger is a useful temporary step up from despair, guilt and fear. From ‘I can’t do exams’ to ‘I hate exams!’ isn’t really a big shift. ‘I should have studied more’ can easily be turned to, ‘I can’t stand people nagging me to study or telling me I should have worked harder.’ ‘I’m going to mess up my life’? Try ‘I don’t give a – .’ Not so hard. And the reason to go this way is that it’s much more energising than those other dark places you have been wallowing in.

It’s good to understand the process. Because to others, your shift from despair to anger won’t look like progress. They may not like it. But if you know that your anger is a temporary step up, you will not relapse into guilt and depression at having slammed doors or been rude to nice people offering help. All too often, students keep yo-yoing back and forth from guilt to anger, getting nowhere. It drives everybody mad. This is just because they don’t know about the emotional scale. Nor do their parents.

Your next step is to turn your anger into something lighter, something more like annoyance. For instance: ‘I really don’t like having so much work to do’. From annoyance, it’s not usually impossible to find a small ray of hope: ‘If I’m strategic, maybe I can get some of my revision out of the way soon.’ From hope, we can usually talk ourselves into feeling little sparks of joy: ‘It will be nice when the exams are over and I can relax. I’m looking forward to all that time off. Something good has got to come of this.’

Allow at least two or three minutes for this transformational process – the time it would take to warm a cup of milk, say. (As it is said in Toy Story 2, you can’t rush art.)

And when you’ve crawled your way up to joy, maybe say sorry to your parents.