It’s the beginning of the exam season here in the UK, and I’m sure that some of you could benefit from tips on how to take the exam season by storm. There’s no doubt that no matter whether they’re GCSE’s, A-Levels, finals, mocks or the real thing, they can all be extremely stressful. Especially if you’re already a ball of anxiety.
It’s been a hot minute since I’ve sat down to study for or take an exam, but the pressure of those impending hours of essay writing has stuck with me. During my final year at university, I’m proud to say that I developed a perfect algorithm to help me go into that exam hall 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!
So 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 that you can go the distance!
If you’re wondering how you can help your kids prepare themselves for exams, have a look at this wonderful article!
8 Ways to manage exam season.
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. Your brain accounts for 20% of the energy consumption in your body on an average day. When put under pressure this increases tenfold! This means 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’re 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. Meal prepping is a category I am absolutely useless with so I’ll leave that to the experts. Snack foods, however, I can help you with.
There are so many out there that not only fuel our bodies but benefit the function of our brains. This is by no means a definitive list 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 polyphenols 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 that I didn’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 fibre and gastrointestinal benefits, oatmeal contains magnesium, vitamin B-6 & 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!
Stick to water as much as you can. The recommended is six to eight cups a day, and it helps to have some sort of reusable bottle on hand so that 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 switched to green tea after midday every day while studying for my exams. Otherwise, I found I got jittery and couldn’t sleep. Instead, I became a real herbal 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.
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, 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 at 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.
Finally, remember to leave the house in good time so you arrive early. You don’t want to be rushing or turn up late. This will only heighten any stress you might be feeling.
Check out this post to learn more about how sticking to a routine can help you stay organised and reasonably stress-free. A routine is essential to ensure you’re getting the most out of your study days, and that you’re better prepared for the exams ahead.
Bonus: Consider adding notecards into the equation! You can use notecards to write down quick bullet points that trigger your thinking on a particular subject.
Set yourself smart and achievable goals. 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.
Note: If you really want to motivate yourself to study, put a sweet 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.
Music (if you’re into that).
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 some noise there are various apps that set a timer complete with background sounds such as rain, thunder, and crackling fires. After the time is up, the music slowly fades out! Get yourself the Chrome extension for Noisli. It does everything I mentioned above and I frequently use it to help myself focus on writing.
You can’t study all day without any breaks at all or your brain just won’t retain the information. According to INC we should only be studying for between fifty to ninety minutes, after which time we should take a break for between fifteen to twenty 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.
I wouldn’t advise it but if you just must go on the Internet you can use this. 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.
“Lack of sleep can end up clouding judgement or increasing the number of mistakes made. Students need to get at least six to eight hours of sleep a night, particularly on the night before an exam.” – Sarah Jessica, The Sleep Council
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.
Get up! 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 three-hour gym session. It can be as simple as a short walk during one of your study breaks, or even a quick at-home yoga session.
- Believe in your ability.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Ain’t nobody perfect!
- Take steps to overcome your problems. If you don’t understand something seek help from a fellow classmate or even try the inter-webs. Sometimes the lecturer’s notes are just far to complicated and 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.
- Take your time reading the questions and, before passing in your paper, make sure to read over your answers.
- Pace yourself.
- After the exam reward yourself. Shop, sleep, or play a video game BUT RELAX!
No matter if you’re in secondary school, university or studying for anything else, I hope these tips are helpful to you in some way.
Remember; You got this! You are awesome! Grades are not the end of the world, they are not the be-all and end-all. No matter what you get you are deserving, you are wonderful and you did your best.