So it’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, everyone wants to be out and about doing nice things … but, of course, thousands of students have to study frantically in preparation for their exams. (Why, oh why, don’t we change the academic year so we take exams in the winter?!)
Regrettably, but somewhat inevitably, there is significant pressure on students to achieve high grades. The NSPCC has reported a 200% increase in the number of students requesting counselling for exam-related stress. Some students are turning to alcohol and illegal drugs in attempts to cope with their nerves. However, it is possible to minimise the feelings of anxiety and boost the chances of success without taking these drastic measures.
1. Create a study timetable
Many students are daunted by the amount of revision required for exam success. However, you can coral the tasks and overcome your initial feelings of dread by breaking the work down into manageable chunks. It’s worth allocating short periods to study each topic and scheduling regular breaks.
Some of us study better at night whereas others perform during the morning or in the afternoon. Learn to recognise your body’s preferred rhythm and when you absorb information the most.
2. Designate a study area
Select or create a positive learning environment. You might be happiest studying in your bedroom or at the dining room table. However, it’s worth taking the time to organise the space and ensure you have all the essential study resources to hand. Friends and family members should be reminded of the need to stay quiet while you read and type up practice essays. If you’re unable to avoid distractions at home then it would be worth visiting a local library or finding a local study group.
To mix things up a little, perhaps timetable yourself short slots for discussing challenging subjects with your school friends but in an environment which is more fun than the dining room table, such as over a drink in a café or in a quiet corner of the park.
3. Use past papers
Teachers and university lecturers are usually happy to explain the questions posed in previous examination papers. However, why not visit the relevant examining board website and have a good read through the marking criteria? It’s a really good idea to develop plans and allot specific amounts of time to address the exam questions. You could discuss your answers with friends and suggest possible areas of improvement.
4. Stay healthy
Some students shut themselves away for hours on end and indulge in an assortment of comfort foods in the run-up to their exams. However, it’s important to take regular exercise and maintain a healthy, balanced diet to combat feelings of anxiety. Wholegrain foods such as brown bread and pasta are good sources of energy which enhance concentration and focus. Broccoli has also been found to have a positive effect on our cognitive ability. Yes, okay, have some chocolate too! It’s got wonderful anti-oxidant qualities…
You could even try some relaxation techniques to boost your chances of exam success, such as foot massage, shoulder massage or soothing meditation CDs. The more energetic but relaxed you feel, the more you will feel able to tackle the cognitive challenges.
Remember that you also need to get sleep, so not too many late nights.
5. Consider music for concentration
There has been a considerable amount of research into the cognitive impact of listening to music. Lyrical ballads and heavy rock tunes have unsurprisingly been deemed as unnecessary distractions. However, people have found it easier to solve mathematical problems and write fluently when listening to soothing classical music. Ambient electronic music has proven beneficial in the resolution of challenging equations. It’s worth checking out the variety of ‘focus’ play lists on Spotify.
6. Prepare the practicalities
You can increase your confidence and feelings of calm by preparing and organising the seemingly little things before your exams. Pack any pens, pencils and other essential resources. Find out where the examinations will take place and how much time is allotted for different questions.
7. Don’t panic
Even if you don’t feel prepared as your exams loom, consider what you can do with the time you have left. Making brief notes or signposts the night before, or morning of, an exam can really hone in your knowledge and help you summarise the important points.
I hope this helps a little. I know only too well how exam time is tough and stressful but being mindful of little tips and techniques should ease your path to that Holy Grail: The invigilator’s “Stop now, please”, at the end of your last exam.