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How to manage psychological rumination in exam preparation

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During the student stage or in preparation for an opposition, as the dates of the exams approach, it is usually common for nerves to surface, gradually increase and do not cease until the last examination has been carried out or even, in many cases, until the ratings.

The most common symptoms in this type of preparation are anxiety, which can be shown in various ways, among which it is worth highlighting psychological rumination; characterized by obsessive thoughts or recurring images that the student experiences as uncontrollable and intrusive, causing discomfort and difficulty concentrating on what is studying.

If anxiety and rumination persist for a long time, it can cause stress and, consequently, physical and mental exhaustion.

Therefore, this article will show you some tips to try manage those ruminative thoughts and be able to carry out a productive study in preparation for exams.

  • Related article: "10 tips to study better and efficiently"

What is psychological rumination during study for exams?

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Psychological rumination consists of a cluster of obsessive thoughts that enter the mind over and over again, introducing the person in a constant loop of ideas of a negative nature that make it difficult for the person to concentrate on the activity they are trying to carry out.

These activities include studying for an exam, a type of preparation that is often hampered by ruminative thoughts.

These types of intrusive thoughts are very common among students and they can be presented in various ways:

  • Obsessing over a subject that is finding it more difficult to learn than you expected.
  • Consider that the study routine is not being productive.
  • Continually thinking that you are going to fail the exam.
  • Seeing it as an absolute failure the failure in the exam.
  • Imagine your parents and family members disappointed if you don't pass.
  • Believe that the world is going to fall on him if he does not pass the test.
  • Anguish imagining how hard it will be to have to go back to study the same subject the following year or to have to re-prepare the syllabus for the opposition.
  • Feeling like you are wasting your time and should throw in the towel.

All this accumulation of thoughts, and many others, can come to arise in the minds of students in such a way that one negative thought leads to another which is also negative, then the next... and so on, the student entering a vicious circle of thoughts that sabotage his concentration and, therefore, his quality of study.

If you do not learn to control these types of mental processes, the student may feel unmotivated enough to take the tests that will await him in the near future and, with this, what is known in social psychology as "negative self-fulfilling prophecy".

It consists of a cognitive bias that consists in that if someone repeatedly thinks that he is going to fail the exam, he will feel more discouraged when it comes to studying, you will not try as hard as you would if you were motivated, and therefore you may fail the exam and your initial idea will come true.

Ruminant thoughts before an exam
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Techniques for Managing Ruminative Thoughts Upon Examination

Below are different psychological techniques that have proven effective with both ruminative or obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

1. Exposure to the exam situation

Conducting a mock exam could help detect those negative thoughts that arise in the moments before the exam and also try to stay exposed to those anxious feelings caused by the nerves that the exams generate.

It would be convenient to carry out this practice as many times as necessary, until the nerves and psychological rumination diminish.

  • Related article: "Exposure therapy with response prevention: what it is and how it is used"

2. Massive practice of a situation that is most similar to the exam

When the confrontation to an exam has been successfully carried out on several occasions without the obsessive thoughts arising excessively and the nerves are reasonably controlled, the student will find himself with a greater self-confidence to face the real test.

What's more, the practice of mock exams is of great help to review and consolidate the studied syllabus, especially when the test will be multiple choice, in which case it is very important to train in detecting wrong answers, for not to mention the possibility of repeating any questions in the final exam that have been asked during the drills.

3. Reinterpret ruminations

Realistically reason those obsessive thoughts, trying to eliminate the catastrophism that accompanies them; all this by making an adequate estimate of the probabilities of real damage that these thoughts would produce; so the maximization of the negative part that is in them could be verified.

4. Exposure exercises in imagination

In this case, the technique consists of imagine yourself in the moments before and during the test, in a way that helps the student to get used to the feared situation and to stop causing so much anxiety. It can be a nice complement to the actual exhibition.

5. Techniques from Mindfulness

The fundamental objectives of practicing Mindfulness are as follows:

  • That the person learns to control her attention and to be able to redirect it where she decides.
  • Maintain a different relationship with those ruminative thoughts that torment you, being able to observe them from a distance.
  • Give up on attempts to forcibly combat those negative thoughts that emerge when you find yourself engulfed in that vicious imaginative circle.

6. Progressive muscle relaxation

When pre-exam nerves and obsessive thoughts cause heightened discomfort, it may be helpful to perform relaxation exercises that consist of tensing a few seconds the muscles and then relax them as much, so that with practice you learn to produce that relaxation response to events and thoughts that produce tension. Muscle tension / relaxation exercises should be divided by muscle groups.

This technique has also been shown to be effective against insomnia. Therefore, it can be useful at times when students have difficulty sleeping in the days leading up to an exam.

  • Related article: "Jacobson's Progressive Relaxation: use, phases and effects"

7. Since Behavioral Activation (CA)

This type of psychological therapy seeks that people do not remain "engrossed" in their ruminative thoughts; considering thoughts as behavior and, consequently, takes into account that it is associated with certain situations with their respective events that precede those thoughts and consequences in the form of states of cheer up.

To know the consequences of psychological rumination, an exercise known as the 'rule of 2' is used. minutes', which consists of looking for a solution to the problem during that time and, if you can't find it, look for one alternative. This can help to become aware of the negative consequences that the process of ruminating brings.

Another alternative to this therapy is the exercise of transforming rumination into a problem-solving process, trying to identify the problem that triggers rumination and think of ways to solve it.

An exercise proposed by this therapy that can be of great help consists of that, when ruminative thoughts begin, the person directs their attention to their surroundings, focusing on what you are hearing, what you can see and the feelings that all this provokes.

One way to avoid rumination and be productive can be to focus on the task at hand. In the case of a student, when it is difficult to concentrate, it may be helpful to start doing summaries and concept maps, focusing fully on what she writes and how she structures it.

  • You may be interested in: "Behavioral Activation: one of the most effective therapies against depression"

Stimulus control and good study habits

In addition to the exercises and techniques previously proposed, it is very important to find the ideal place where to carry out an optimal study and to carry out a lifestyle that allows a productive and stable study routine over time.

The first of all is to carry out a good planning of the material to be studied in terms of subdivision by subject or subjects that will be addressed each day and the organization of study schedules will be the basis of a good preparation for a exam.

The longer a study schedule is stable, the more likely this will become routine and therefore less effort involved in carrying out the study. Which will make it easier for ruminant thoughts to disappear.

Second, find a comfortable, distraction-free place to study. It does not matter if you study in a library or at home, and even if both places are interspersed, that is something very personal. What is really relevant is that we choose a place where we feel that we can concentrate.

Having study buddies can help you encourage each other, as long as it's not a major distraction for both of you. It would be useful to be able to have someone to chat with during the breaks that are usually taken when studying and even to ask each other about the subject that is being studied.

Moving the mobile device away and out of sight avoids multiple distractions while studying. It is also not advisable to abstain from it for a long time if it is difficult or if you are waiting for a call important, since this could cause anxiety and, consequently, more distraction than if you had your mobile scope. Therefore, it would be convenient to establish a few breaks every few minutes of study carried out to be able to browse the mobile.

Another fundamental aspect is sleep and good nutrition.. If they are not carried out correctly, the student is likely to be tired and unwilling to study. Furthermore, it is widely demonstrated that during sleep what was studied the day before is consolidated in memory; not to mention the benefits of some foods such as salmon or walnuts, which are rich in omega 3 and help prevent cognitive decline.

Allowing yourself one day of total disconnection a week is usually highly recommended to recharge your batteries after a week of extensive effort and thus resume the following week with energy. This would also help to keep a clear mind and thus avoid rumination.
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