Taking control of your study nerves

image It has probably never been so easy to access advice to support studying – whether that is in the form of study materials, feedback on formative assessment or access to tutors to clarify any questions students may have.

But that doesn’t stop students worrying about how to tackle the next assignment coming their way – and particularly in the light of access to more and more information, how to cope with fitting everything they could possibly say into a limited word count.

That was a concern raised by a student in an email this morning.  In addition to sharing a few tips of my own, I remembered that another student last year had really suffered from assignment anxiety and had sought some external help, which resulted in her achieving a merit grade in the recent CIPR Diploma CRT assessment.  She has agreed that I can share her recommendations.

Firstly, she noted how sensible it was to seek advice before an assignment is due, rather than simply convincing yourself that you have everything under control, “only to admit that things were stressing me out at the 11th hour- which didn’t really leave room to turn things around”.

Another useful thought is to understand the source of your anxiety – in my case, I will never attempt to guess which questions might be asked, having faced a Latin exam which tested the half of the poems I had not memorised.  My student reports anxiety from her University days when she felt she “always going in the wrong direction”.

The CIPR students tend to be combining busy professional (and home) lives with their studies – and another suggestion is to check out what support services might be available at work.  Stress in studying is often a symptom of stress at work, and many organisations offer counselling within their occupational health system.

The student who took advantage of 6 counselling sessions reported they helped her to stop “being my own worst critic to a certain extent and realising that the worst case scenario isn’t that bad at all, this course will not make or break your career, but is something extra on top of the norm that you’ve chosen to go into and you will still have good options whatever comes up.”

She also recommended a quick-read, self-help book (a present from her mum): “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers, which continues to be a great help in her studies.

Recognising your own habits is another good piece of advice.  I often refer to the term “displacement behaviour” – when I have something that I don’t particularly want to do, even the ironing becomes a more attractive way of spending time.

As my student says: “I know that I’m very good at making notes, and making notes, and making notes. With the CRT over Christmas I was really keen to encompass the whole syllabus into two essays which wasn’t very helpful. Stick to a deadline to stop researching and get words on a page (at least 8 days of writing up for me). You won’t get it looking beautiful on the first draft and the writing will be scrappy, but if you look at it like a crossword rather than a poem it’s a start.”

Probably the most poignant thing was that this student thanked me for the opportunity to support another person going through the same thing that she had, saying:

“It’s good to consolidate on the fact that I’m not where I was 10 months ago and that even second time round it’s worth hanging in there.”

As Dorothy Fields wrote – pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again.  (Check out the YouTube video – you’ll be humming the tune all day).

How do you dust yourself down and cope with those study nerves?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.