Exam success survival kit: A six step guide for students
If you are soon to be taking your exams you may be experiencing all kinds of feelings. Like many you may be feeling unprepared, under pressure and unsure about your future.
This article will give you some tools to help you cope as well as some tips to ensure you stay at your best throughout this 'testing' time.
1.PLAN & PREP
Having a clear overview of your study timetable and your exam dates will help get your head around things. Try to create some structure, even if it's just planning the day in front of you. Managing your study time, exams, breaks and food can help you feel on top of things and feel less stressed.
Create a 'working space'
Create a space where you'll feel productive with everything you need to hand and minimal distractions. Keeping the room cool will help stop you getting sleepy. To keep the right mind-set try to sit at a desk rather than studying on your bed.
Create a timetable
A timetable of your studying and exam schedule will help you to get your head around everything you need to do. Then you can break it down and plan each week and each day.
Stick to the plan
Resist dropping everything just because there are 'other things' you'd rather be doing. Instead think ahead to your exams and remember why it is important that you study.
Don't over do it
Give yourself time to see friends and do the things you enjoy. Be realistic when planning and try not to cram in more than you can.
Take a look at the chart above - where do you sit?
* How many hours a day do you spend on social media? And how many of the hours would you honestly say are productive?
* If you are letting Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram etc distract you from what you should be doing then it's time to take steps. Put your phone on airplane mode or even turn it off (that button is there for a reason).
* If you just can't help yourself then there are apps like 'SelfControl' which are designed to help you avoid distracting websites.
Procrastinating is when you avoid or delay getting around to doing something you need to do. Here are some tips on how to avoid the procrastination trap.
* Have your STUDY SPACE already set up so you're good to go.
* Don't think about whether you want to study or not JUST DO IT.
* FOCUS on the immediate task in front of you rather than worrying about everything that needs to be done.
* Start with the task that you want to do the LEAST.
* Give yourself DEADLINES for each module, this will help you keep on track.
There are tons of apps around that can help you get organised:
Study Smart : Study Planner lets you timetable your schedule
Exam Countdown helps keep a log of your exam dates.
Taking breaks will refresh your brain and recharge batteries. You may prefer frequent short breaks or fewer breaks that are longer in duration. During breaks you may need total distraction from your work or it may help you to keep some focus so you don't lose momentum. Figure out what works for you and do just that.
Ideas for breaks
- MOVE your body
- Take a POWER NAP
- CHAT to family or friends
- Do something just for FUN
- REFUEL with FRESH food
- REFILL your water bottle
- PREP some HEALTHY study snacks to keep your ENERGY up.
- If it helps your focus ask someone to TEST you on what you've been studying.
Things to avoid during your breaks
- WORRYING about exams won't help you switch off
- Taking LONGER THAN INTENDED may leave you feeling behind and stressed.
- Eating or drinking SUGAR and processed foods. These will give you a boost but this can be followed by a crash which will leave you tired and craving more of the same foods.
- SITTING at your desk. Try have a break from your working environment.
Think about what you eat over the course of a day. Do you think you make good food choices or is there room for improvement?
If you feel that your eating could be better then have a look at the questions below and see if these may refer to you:
Do you skip meals?
It can be easy to skip meals, especially breakfast. However when we do this it messes with our hormones. Not only could it make you extra hungry later but you are more likely to crave sugary fatty foods. Try not to go for long periods of time without eating to avoid dips in energy and extreme hunger.
Do you eat too much junk?
Processed or sugary foods and drinks might give you a quick boost but you’ll soon feel low in energy again and cravings for more of the same kinds of foods will increase! If you have a sweet tooth opt for fresh fruit or dried fruit.
Do you eat on auto pilot?
When we are busy we often don't realise how much we are eating. Stop what you are doing when you are eating and you'll digest food better and be less likely to overeat.
Do you comfort eat?
Stress, boredom, distraction; there are many reasons other than hunger that we eat. If you eat when you aren't even hungry then look at ways of managing this and try to find other things that make you feel good.
When choosing meals or snacks go for foods that keep you going, help you to focus and make you feel good. These foods will help to give you the nutrients your mind and body need.
Snacks, breakfasts & light meals:
Raw veggies with dip
Yoghurt with nuts & fruit
Porridge with berries, nuts & seeds
Cheese with salad/raw veggies
Healthy Eating Tips
Be prepared when you're out and about
Keeping some healthy snacks like fruit or nuts on you will give you something to snack on when you need to fill a gap.
Add seeds and fresh herbs to salads, make your own dip, create interesting toppings for bread or crackers. Not only will you be eating healthily but getting creative has a positive affect on the mind which gives a boost in mood and energy.
Have some 'go to' foods at home
When you are at home eggs are a great 'go to' food. They are quick and easy to prepare and you can vary how you make them and what other ingredients you use; cheese, vegetables, toast, smoked salmon to same a few.
Foods to fill you up and fuel your brain
Sharing photos of your healthy meals and study snacks on social media can inspire and give others ideas.
IMPORTANT: Drink water
* Your brain needs water to help you think clearly and to maintain focus and energy levels. Keep a bottle of water to hand and take sips throughout the day while studying.
* Soft drinks can be full of sugar. Like with the foods already mentioned they'll only give you those sugar hits followed by crashes and cravings.
* If you like something with a bit more flavour prepare a jug of water with things like freshly chopped lemon, lime, oranges or mint leaves to keep you well-hydrated.
The highs and lows of caffeine
Caffeine is popular amongst students during exams due to its ability to wake us up and keep us alert and able to concentrate.
Caffeine can have negative effects when too much is consumed. One side affect can be feeling 'wired' where you may struggle to slow down and think clearly. Another side affect is sleeplessness and a general inability to relax.
Long term affects include anxiety and addiction which can lead to withdrawals, causing irritability, low mood and headaches.
It is recommended that adults drink no more than 300-400mg caffeine per day and adolescents no more than 100mg.
If you are a caffeine drinker try not to rely on this to keep you going.
Keep espresso based coffees as one shot only and allow a few hours in-between each caffeinated drink. If you make your own coffee then use one which is weaker in strength. Try to avoid caffeine after 6pm as this may affect your ability to sleep.
Energy drinks and sodas contain all sorts of additives as well as sugar so avoid these completely if you can.
When we don't get enough sleep the ability to concentrate becomes a problem and we generally don't feel ourselves. Our appetite is often also affected and we tend to get hungry and crave sugary and fatty foods. Not to mention the need for caffeine.
Tips to help you sleep:
* Give your self a bit of time to wind down after studying
* Turn off your computer and phone before you wind down for the evening as these devices keep the brain active.
* Do something that helps you switch off.
* Reading can help.
* Avoid food or drinks that are processed or contain sugar.
* If you finish studying late and hungry then stick to plainer foods that don't wake you up. (see below)
Food/drinks that can help you sleep:
* Dairy/milk (warm milk is great for sleep)
* Camomile tea
* Nuts & seeds
If you study late into the night and aren't getting enough sleep then take a nap or two during the day to recharge your batteries
Try not to study too late at night before your exam. Give yourself time to relax and to prepare for the next day. Get an early night so you will feel naturally refreshed and plan to wake up at a time that gives you time to prepare yourself before the test.
Feeling some stress and nerves around the time of exams is very normal. Stress can actually help us to focus. If you are worrying a bit too much or feel that you are struggling to cope you are certainly not alone in how you feel and there are many ways that can help you to manage these feelings.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good and avoid those who don't. If you feel a bit isolated when you’re studying why not arrange to meet and study together? You can support and help each other out and sometimes it helps us to know others are going through the same as we are.
Share your feelings
Talking to people about any worries can be extremely helpful. Friends, teachers, parents and other family members will probably have gone through similar pressures and will be able to offer advice and support.
Stay in the moment
Worrying about the future and what may or may not happen can feel quite overwhelming and often hinders more than helps. Try not to worry about what you need to do or stress about possible outcomes. Just think about the task in front of you and what you need to do in that moment.
It can be tempting to spend downtime on the computer or watching TV. Finding time to exercise is a fantastic way of creating positive feelings and delivering oxygen to the brain which will keep your mind sharp. Playing sport and games, dancing or anything that gets the heart pumping will make you feel good and will focus your mind on something different.
Exercise your mind
If you aren't an exercise kind of person and prefer to use your mind then challenge your brain in different ways like solving puzzles, being creative, playing games, or reading.
Listen to music
Music can have a big impact on how we feel. Listen to music that lifts your mood or makes you feel good about life.
Eat a healthy balanced diet
What we eat and drink can impact our mood and help to keep our emotions balanced. Avoid sugar and junk food and eat fresh healthy foods.
Relax and breathe
If you find it hard to switch your brain off then breathing exercises or yoga can be helpful. There are lots of yoga workouts and guided meditation videos online that you can follow.
How to use breathing to relieve stress
Begin by exhaling through your mouth until all of the air has left your lungs then gently inhale through your nose focusing the breath toward the back of the ribcage allowing the ribs to expand. Then slowly exhale through the mouth counting to around 8 seconds as you so so. Repeat 3 to 7 times or until you feel calmer.
If you suffer from anxiety you are one of many. Even those who seem confident and successful can feel anxious inside. Actors including Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence and musician Professor Green have all spoken out about their struggle with anxiety. When we are under pressure feelings of anxiety can increase. Often our fears can come from what we are are telling ourselves.
If you are feeling anxious about your exams, think about your fears surrounding this. Maybe you are afraid of what could happen in the future, or you could be afraid of failing or of letting other people down. Maybe you are comparing yourself to others. Whatever your fears are you basing these on how you feel or on the facts?
Learn to understand your anxiety and begin to manage it by asking yourself the following questions:
"What is it that am I actually afraid of, is it worth making myself feel so bad?"
"Where is the evidence to support what I am thinking, could I be jumping to conclusions?"
"What is the worst that could happen, and what could I do to cope if it did?"
Then try replacing your negative thoughts with statements like the following:
"I won't feel like this forever, one day my exams will be in the past"
"Whatever happens I can cope"
"I am not the only person to feel like this"
"I am doing my best and that is good enough"
"How would I advise a friend who was feeling like this?"
If you feel like things are getting on top of you and you need a bit of extra support there are many resources and support groups available to help you like Anxiety UK or Young Minds. If you make those who care about you aware of your anxiety you will allow them to help and support you.
Final thoughts to take away
Exams are something most of us have to deal with at some point in our life. Some enjoy the exam process, some have strengths in other areas. Whatever your exam results there will always be someone who does better than you and someone who does worse. It is important to care about your exams but try to keep some perspective and understand that this is one point in your life and there will be many more chances for you to succeed.
On exam day you have done all you can so let go of anxieties, do your best (you can do no more than that), learn from the process and once your exams are done give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and look to the future.