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Originally published on nyxiesnook.com. Republished here with permission.
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It’s the beginning of the exam season here in the UK and I thought that some of you out there could benefit from tips on how to take the exam season by storm.
There is no doubt that no matter what the exams–whether they are GCSE’s, A-Levels, finals, mocks, or the real thing–they can all be extremely stressful. Especially if you are already a ball of anxiety like I am!
That being said, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve sat down to study for or to take an exam, but the pressure of those impending 2 – 3 hours of essay writing has stuck with me.
During my final year in university, I’m proud to say that I developed a perfect algorithm to help me survive exam season and know that I was giving it my all.
Yes, it was hard. Yes, I spent many nights crying; but it didn’t break me. I was far more prepared, both mentally and emotionally, for the examination periods in my final year than I ever had been any of the previous years.
Whether you’ve just finished singing the Auld Land Syne or you’re getting ready to hop into your flip-flops, this post will point you in the right direction so you can go the distance in your exams.
1. Nourish Your Body
I can’t believe I’m lecturing you all about feeding yourself, but the truth is that during my final year I was quite healthy. I ate when I was hungry and fueled my body properly. I probably could have done with more water, but I think that’s one we all struggle with at some point in our lives. No one’s perfect.
Your brain accounts for 20% of the energy consumption in your body on an average day. When put under pressure this increases, meaning that you need more of the right foods to enable you to hold focus and retain important information.
While studying you need to make sure you are not only eating enough but also eating the right types of foods. Don’t just reserve yourself to a quick pot noodle or a cup-of-soup, make the effort to eat foods that are packed full of nutrition.
There are many snack foods out there that not only fuel our bodies but benefit the function of our brains.
This is by no means a definitive list of good snacks, but it’ll give you an idea of what to look for:
- Nuts, such as cashews and almonds, provide our bodies with magnesium, which is known for its cortisol (stress) reducing properties. Walnuts have the added benefit of omega-3 and polyophenols, which help with our memory so we can better retain information!
- Bananas contain vitamin B-6, which helps with the production of serotonin (the happy hormone) and helps regulate our blood sugar levels. I admit I don’t eat these because I loathe bananas, but you do you.
- Oatmeal or porridge oats are packed full of vitamins and minerals that help our bodies during times of stress. Apart from the obvious fiber and gastrointestinal benefits, oatmeal contains magnesium, vitamin B-6, and potassium. All of these together help reduce stress and anxiety to manageable levels. It’s quick to make in the morning, you can add whatever you want to it, you can make overnight oats, and you can also make handy, snack size flat jacks for when you’re on the go.
- Dark chocolate helps with the release of endorphins and increases blood flow to the brain, heightening focus and reducing mental fatigue. It also contains a bit of caffeine for an extra kick!
2. Stay Hydrated
Stick to water as much as you can. The recommended is 6 – 8 cups a day, and it helps to have some sort of reusable bottle on hand so you don’t forget. I find that if it’s in my line of vision, then I am less likely to bypass it for a coffee.
Believe it or not I switch to green tea after midday every day while studying for my exams, otherwise, I find I get jittery and can’t sleep. During exam season, I became a real tea buff and drank my body weight in green tea.
When going into the exam remember to bring your water bottle with you! There is nothing worse than being stuck in an exam hall and thirsty as all hell.
3. Get Organized
Before you start studying make sure you know when the exams are and what to prioritise. Then, with all the information at hand, you can work on creating a study timetable to help keep your mind on track.
Use a planner to plan out your days, including what topics you are going to cover and for how long. When it comes to the day of the exam make sure you know where you are going and what the topic is.
Don’t turn up to the wrong place, at the wrong time and prepared for the wrong subject. There’s nothing worse!
Make sure you have all the materials you need to make studying easier for you: highlighters, textbooks, lecture notes, notebooks, pencils, pens, sticky notes, etc. Whatever makes it easier for you, make sure you have it on hand before beginning.
Remember to leave the house in good time so you arrive early. You don’t want to be rushing or to turn up late. This will only heighten any stress you may be feeling.
Lastly, consider adding note cards into the equation! You can use note cards to write down quick bullet points that trigger your thinking on a particular subject.
4. Set Goals
Set yourself smart and achievable goals during exam season. Before you begin your study session write yourself a list of your aims, and, as you complete the tasks, mark them off. You’ll feel a great sense of reward every time you see how far you have gotten.
It’s been a while since I was in university, and even longer since I was in school. That being said I still have goals that I need to achieve in terms of blogging, writing, and recovery. I’ve started using a planner to help keep me on the right track. You can opt for a print planner or a digital one; it’s entirely up to you how you use it.
Bonus Tip: If you really want to motivate yourself to study, put a sweet/candy at the end of each page/paragraph that you’re working on. When you finally reach the goal you get the added bonus of a tasty treat! It’s actually quite a good test of motivation and self-control.
5. Find Good Music
I can’t study without some sort of background noise. However, others can’t study without silence. It’s really up to your own personal preference.
If you need a little bit of music while you’re taking notes and highlighting, then I suggest trying the Vitamin String Quartet.
If you just want background noise, there are various apps that set a timer and play background sounds such as rain, thunder, and crackling fires. After the time is up, the music slowly fades out!
6. Take Breaks
During exam season, you can’t study all day, every day without any breaks or your brain just won’t retain the information. According to INC we should only be studying for between 50 – 90 minutes, after which time we should take a break for 15-20 minutes.
During this time you should move away from your place of work to give your brain a change of scenery. Get up and walk around, dance, call a friend, do a quick yoga sequence, or go for a walk.
If you must browse the internet during your break, you can. It will ensure that you don’t end up spending the rest of your day on Twitter or reading the latest news. Just enter all the sites you tend to spend your time on, set a timer, and there you have it. No more inappropriately long study breaks.
Six to eight hours of sleep each night is recommended for most people. This might increase depending on the amount of physical activity you take. Basically what this means is that you definitely should not be pulling an all-nighter to cram for an exam last minute.
Lack of sleep leads to increased stress levels, ‘brain fog’, and a distinct dip in concentration and focus. All of which you certainly don’t want when you are trying to ace your exams.
If you have problems getting off to sleep have a look at one of my older posts.
During exam season, remember to get up and get active!
Exercise increases blood flow which, in turn, boosts our energy levels naturally without the use of stimulants. It’s also a great way to bust stress due to the release of endorphins.
It doesn’t have to be a 5KM run or a full 3-hour gym session. Exercise can be as simple as a short walk during one of your study breaks or even a quick at-home yoga session.
Some additional tips for exam season:
- Believe in your ability.
- Don’t try to be perfect; nobody’s perfect!
- Take steps to overcome your problems. If you don’t understand something, seek help from a fellow classmate or the internet. Sometimes the lecturer’s notes are just far too complicated and friends or Google can really help!
- Don’t keep it all bottled up. If you need to talk, then talk. It’s natural to be anxious, but don’t let it knock you down.
- Keep things in perspective.
- Pace yourself and don’t rush. During the exam, take your time reading the questions and, before handing in your paper, make sure to read over your answers.
- After exam season is over, reward yourself: shop, sleep, play a video game, and don’t forget to relax!
Whether you’re in secondary school, university, or studying for anything else, I hope these tips are helpful to you in some way.
You’ve got this!
You are awesome! Grades are not the end of the world and they are not the be all and end all.
Regardless of your final grades, you are deserving, you are wonderful, and you did your best.
My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.
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