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Is UCAT Stressing You Out? Here's How to Use Stress to Your Advantage


You may have heard that stress negatively impacts on performance, particularly in an intellectually challenging test such as UCAT.

You may have been told that if you are too stressed in the lead up to an important exam such as UCAT, you won’t do well.

You may have been advised to look for ways to relieve your UCAT-related stress.

While this may be true, in some cases trying to get rid of UCAT stress can actually cause you to become more stressed. A different approach, which might sound crazy at first, is to embrace your UCAT stress. The following three strategies will not only help you manage stress, but will also boost your UCAT performance.

Technique 1: Arousal reappraisal

Stress is an important evolutionary response to danger and is an automatic tool that takes over in the event of a threat. Stress responses help you run faster, see better and think quicker. Symptoms of stress include a quickened heartbeat, sweaty palms and butterflies in the stomach – all common feelings before a high-stakes test such as UCAT. Most students interpret these physical cues as meaning, ‘I’m nervous’, a message from their bodies that causes them to become even more anxious. Instead, arousal reappraisal is a strategy that helps you take stock of your physical state and deliberately choose to think about it in a different way. Reinterpreting ‘I’m so nervous’ as ‘I’m so excited’ or ‘I’m ready for this test’ or ‘I’m prepared for anything’ can allow you to turn your state of physiological arousal to your advantage. Use it to get pumped up for UCAT!

Technique 2: Gain some perspective

We often think of stress as something over which we have no control. This is reflected in our language – we say, ‘I am stressed’ rather than ‘I feel stressed’. When we strongly identify with an emotion such as stress, it can become part of our sense of self. It is important to remember, however, that stress is a bodily response to a feeling about how we view our current situation. Stress is not always reality.

Try rephrasing the stress from ‘I am stressed’ to ‘I am in a situation which requires me to take UCAT, an important test. I am having the feeling that I am stressed and my body is responding accordingly.’ Once you step back, even just a little bit, you will gain valuable perspective. Rather than fighting your stress, acknowledge it for what it is – a reaction to how you view a particular situation, such as UCAT.

Technique 3: Understand why

It is useful to think about why you are stressed about UCAT, and where your stress comes from. Take a few moments to consider and write down the reasons for your UCAT-related stress. What are you worried about in relation to UCAT? Are your UCAT fears justified? Is anything or anyone making your UCAT stress worse? What impact does stress have on you? What do you tell yourself when you’re feeling stressed, and does it help or hinder you? Doing this will help you understand the causes of your stress, and work towards addressing them.

Contrary to popular belief, ‘stress relief’ may not be as easy as we think. Rather than fighting UCAT stress, try embracing it. Remember, stress prepares you for battle, pumping you up and increasing your levels of success. Use it to your advantage in UCAT!

Additional stress management strategies and psychological techniques to boost performance are discussed in the MedEntry UCAT course.

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