So, it’s exam time. Look familiar?
You’ve been studying hard for weeks. Months. Years even. You’ve been a good listener, a great note note taker, and you’ve shown commitment to learning and building your knowledge base. But your success or failure now hinges on a single, heavy-weighted test.
Understandably, this seems like a recipe destined for stress and dread. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Finding your sweet spot
We know that revision is important. We know the importance of creating effective notes, practicing developing answers, and getting used to time constraints. We know we need to dedicate ourselves to study and ask for help when we need it. But even if we do all this we still tend to doubt our capabilities and knowledge data base. Despite constant effort, we tell ourselves that we must cram, cram and cram some more. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, so what harm will a few all-nighter’s do?
Well, turns out – a fair bit of harm.
Last-minute revision is synonymous with a poor night’s sleep, if any at all. You can get plenty of information in, but as sleep is essential for forming enduring memories, you’ll struggle to recall the information you need for your exam.
Cognitive throughput (the speed in which your brain processes information) slows down after just one sleepless night. Too little sleep disrupts the neural pathways that allow information to travel smoothly from one area of the brain to another, a bit like a train that’s been diverted onto the wrong set of tracks. As a result, your working memory (which handles problem-solving and decision making) fails to kick in, and you take the long route in finding your answers.
Instead of cramming, find your sweet spot. Actively revise, take notes, practice developing answers and work within time constraints. But do it to boost your confidence and then get a good night’s rest before your test. No good will come from hours upon hours upon hours of study, so give yourself a break and follow these tips instead of panicking.
Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, and sitting in one place for a long period of time can make your brain feel sluggish. Before you sit your test, get a quick walk in, do a set of crunches, push out a few pushups, or perform this three-minute exercise to get the heart pumping and say goodbye to brain fogginess. This will keep your blood flowing and your mind active as you sit still.
2. Eat well
Grabbing food on-the-go during exam week might seem like a good way to save on time, but the quick calories of processed carbohydrates will ultimately leave you feeling exhausted and sluggish. Instead, eat foods that are digested slowly: whole grains, fresh vegetables and lean proteins. Think ahead when you can and prepare meals in advance. Also stock the cupboard with healthy snacks like apples, almonds and walnuts so that you avoid reaching for the sugary treats.
3. Work in short bursts
There is evidence to suggest that experimenting with different methods of study and switching subjects every hour can help you retain information for longer. Human brains are not designed to focus narrowly on one topic for extended periods of time, so study for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break (include a reward like a walk or phone call with a friend) and then repeat with a different subject.
4. Avoid distraction
It might be unrealistic to think you can switch your social media off for an entire week, but you can avoid it during study time. Be aware of the “just for a moment” syndrome of ‘quick checks’ and brief message replies. These moments add up to cause serious distraction, so keep social media and messaging only to your breaks. You’re friends will understand if you don’t reply for an hour.
5. Verbalise your concerns
The exam period isn’t a time to lock yourself away and stop socialising. It’s important that you have human interaction and talk to your peers, especially if you have concerns surrounding the tests. Talk out your concerns and swap study techniques. Quiz each other and read each other’s notes. Or just chat and take your mind off things for a few hours. It’s good to lift the weight off your shoulders at times.
6. Prepare a study plan
Having a visual study plan to refer to will help remind you of what you need to study and what you have already studied. Make sure it’s balanced with the things that are important in your life – that way it’s easier to stick to. Each day, check over what you’ve done and ask yourself how you’re feeling about that subject. If you’ve given yourself sufficient time on a topic, put a red dot next to it. The more red dots you have come exam time, the more confident you’ll feel.
7. Learn to say no
While it’s important to catch up with friends and take part in the things you enjoy most in life during exam time, it’s also important not to overdo it. If your boss asks you to fill a shift that someone called in sick for, explain that you don’t have the time right now and that your responsibility lies temporarily elsewhere. If you feel you need to take the whole week off to concentrate on looking after yourself, that’s okay too.
8. Reward yourself
Knowing there’s light at the end of the tunnel can be a huge motivator and stress deflector. Plan a night out, a weekend away, or a day’s activity doing something fun after your last test and you’ll be happy to run to the finish line rather than fear it. Make exam time a positive experience by rewarding yourself as you should.
And lastly, follow our tips of how not to procrastinate. Procrastination is a student’s nemesis, so do everything you can to avoid it.