Well, it’s that time of year again, when everyone starts to camp out in the library and become immersed in textbooks and note-taking. Exam time doesn’t need to be a few weeks out of your year when you are exhausted, frazzled and stressed out. There are plenty of things that you can do to maximize your study time, take good care of yourself and de-stress.
– Don’t over-do your studying. It’s important that you invest enough time to do a proper amount of revision, but you don’t want to completely wear yourself out. I tend to think that any more than eight hours of study a day is excessive. Generally, I do about four to six hours each day.
– Find yourself somewhere quiet to study where you won’t be distracted. I am normally very happy to study at home, but for the last few weeks I have been booking private study carrels at the library and holing up there for a few hours a day. I’m finding it to be wonderful, because there are no distractions and I am able to really concentrate and get all of my work done. Make sure that your study space is quiet, with plenty of light and enough space for you to spread yourself out.
– Set yourself realistic goals for each day and stick to them. Reward yourself when you reach your target.
– Be creative with your revision. Don’t just re-read your notes and textbooks. Summarize your notes, make yourself flashcards and posters, do practice exam questions and discuss your work with friends. The more ways you use the information, the more likely it will stick in your brain.
– Make sure that you are well-equipped for study. Buy yourself a stack of new exercise books, index cards, sticky labels, highlighters and pens.
– Remember to take breaks. Don’t study for more that two hours at a time. If you study for much longer than this, your brain will start to get a bit fuzzy and it will be difficult for you to absorb the information.
– Don’t give in to peer pressure. When you’re at school, people tend to bring up peer pressure in the context of drugs and sex, but I believe it is just as present when it comes to study. Some people begin to get really competitive about how many hours of study a day they have done. If you are happy with the amount of work you are doing, and you are meeting all your goals, just be pleased with that. Good study is measured in quality not quantity.
– I know that it sounds really silly, but I find it very difficult to study in my pajamas or a tracksuit. These are the clothes that I wear when I am relaxing in front of the telly or heading to bed, and so when I am dressed this way, my mind doesn’t want to focus on work. Even when I’m studying, I try to make the effort to get dressed in something fun and comfortable, do my hair and put on a little makeup. I find it makes me feel more ready for the day and I work much harder. You don’t have to wear a three-piece suit or a sequined ballgown (unless you want to), but I find that some cute, comfy clothes and a slick of lipgloss do wonders for my state of mind and concentration levels.
Healthy body, healthy mind
– It is especially important to eat well during exam time. When you are busy, tired and stressed, it can be very tempting to skip meals or reach for takeaway or junk food. If you make sure that you are eating well, your energy levels will be better and you will feel more alert. Good nutrition will also support your immune system, so you are less likely to get sick during your exam period. Go shopping and stock up on plenty of healthy snacks that don’t take much preparation. This way, you will have something tasty and quick on hand when you need something to munch on. Fresh and dried fruit, nuts, hummus and crackers, carrot and celery sticks, tuna, yogurt and rice crackers are all great study snacks.
– Make large batches of soups, casseroles and pasta sauces and freeze individual portions. Choose recipes that are loaded with vegetables and protein. This way, at mealtimes, all you have to do is reheat your food and maybe cook a little rice or pasta to go with it.
– While it can be tempting to gulp down several jumbo cups of coffee every time you sit down to study, you really aren’t doing yourself any favors. Although the caffeine will keep you awake, it may also exacerbate your stress levels and make it more difficult to wind down. If you crave a hot drink, try green or peppermint tea, which is refreshing and good for you.
– Try not to study late into the night. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep every night leading up to your exams. This will keep your energy levels up, stop you from getting to cranky and irritable and improve your information retention capacity. It is very difficult for a tired mind to take in new information and recall it later on. Getting sufficient sleep each night is a better investment than spending a couple of extra hours studying when you are exhausted.
– Exercise is a brilliant stress-buster. A few short sessions throughout the day will help you to relax, keep your mind alert and give your brain time to process the work you have been doing. I like to mix up my workouts, and do about two or three twenty-minute bursts throughout the day, in between study periods. A short walk is a great way to refresh your mind, yoga is brilliant for stretching out stiff muscles and wild dancing is fun and uplifting.
– Make an effort to keep in touch with all your friends. While it’s nice to see your classmates while you are studying, it’s also really wonderful to catch up with non-school mates, family members and your romantic partner. Spending time with other people is a great way to de-stress and give your mind a break. Don’t go overboard with your socializing, but don’t completely abandon your friends and family while you are studying.
– Use study time to give yourself a beauty treatment. Slather on a hair treatment or face mask, study for half an hour and then rinse off. If you are typing up notes, give yourself a manicure and use the typing time to let your polish dry.
– Buy yourself a box set of your favorite television show, and reward yourself with an episode each night for good work. I do this every year, and it is a lifesaver. This year, I’m watching Ally McBeal. Last year, the Tudors got me through exams. Friends was my saving grace in first year.
– Make a pact with yourself to leave the house at least once a day. It can be easy to squirrel yourself away at your desk and get absorbed in your own academic world. Just a short walk to the shops for a trip to the park could save your sanity.
– Plan something special for when exams are over. It can be anything you like, from a movie marathon, a massive shopping trip, a blow out party or a visit to your favorite masseuse. This will give you something to look forward to.
– Take your breaks away from your desk. It will help your mind to detach from the work.
– Do something creative in your breaks. Learn to knit or sew, paint or draw.
– Recognize when you are starting to get burnt out. When I’ve been studying for a while, I notice that my temper is shorter, I feel teary and ready to snap at anything at all. A few months ago, I was overworked and I yelled at Jellylorum for being too noisy, and then burst into tears when the string on my teabag broke. Just be mindful of the early warning signs of exhaustion and burnout. When you notice that you are getting worn out, take a break and do something nice for yourself. Hopefully you will be able to catch yourself before you get to the point of screaming at a beloved pet.
– Try not to be nervous about the exam itself. If you are anxious, try to find the reasons why you are worried, and then make a plan to deal with them. If you are nervous about running out of time in the exam, find out the format of the exam, and calculate how much time you can afford to spend on each question. If you are worried about forgetting to take something into the exam, pack your bag the night before. Don’t get too preoccupied about heading off disaster, but a little bit of forward-thinking can help to put your mind at ease.
– Don’t fret if you make mistakes during your preparation. Everyone makes mistakes, and you should try to see them as a learning opportunity. In my second year of uni, I was studying contract law and it was very difficult. A week before the exam, we were going through some practice questions in our tutorial. I had prepared an answer before class, and I was confident that it was right. It turned out that I was horribly wrong and had completely overlooked a very important issue. I was so mad at myself, and spent the rest of the afternoon mentally berating myself. However, in the exam, a very similar question came up, and I was aware of the issues I needed to cover. I aced that question. If I hadn’t made that mistake in the first place, I might not have been so vigilant in the exam. If you do make a mistake in your preparations, recognize where you went wrong, and promise yourself you won’t do it again, but don’t beat yourself up.
I hope this has been helpful to all of my readers who are currently preparing for exams. If you have any exam-time tips, I would love to hear them. Best wishes for your assessments!