When it comes to exams, there’s a fine line between an apprehension that keeps you motivated, and suffering from the kind of all-encompassing stress that will negatively impact not only your revision but your general mental health. So how do you make sure you’re looking after yourself?
If you’re reading this prior to embarking on revision, the best way to keep things as stress-free as possible is to start early. Give yourself plenty of space in which to have the inevitable freak out and recover in time to get back on the textbooks.
If, on the other hand, you’re reading this in a last-week-before-exams panic, there’s still plenty that you can do. Remember to take regular (but short!) breaks to avoid becoming frazzled. Don’t just stop doing everything you find enjoyable – unwinding at the end of the day is a necessary part of the process. No one can study 24/7, so feel justified in your evening WhatsApp gossip, 4oD binge or T-Swift singalong.
You might also find it useful to work in a different area to where you rest, for example studying in the library and then enjoying the separation of being at home to relax. At the very least, don’t spend your whole time in bed, flicking between your textbooks and Facebook in one all-day exercise in procrastination.
Finally, most people work most efficiently in the morning, so make use of this part of the day. This will also help you to avoid working late into the night – anyone would be liable to revision meltdown on four hours sleep.
Exercise has long been used as a powerful tool to combat stress and boost your mood. It also has the added benefit of helping you get to sleep at night. Similarly, you need to make sure you’re eating properly. Feed your brain! It’s ill-advised to take caffeine tablets, or rely too heavily on coffee. You don’t need to start a #cleaneating revolution, but avoid sugar-heavy junk food that will just lead to a crash a few hours later (and possibly fuel a sugar-craving mood swing).
Make use of your support network, for example by talking one on one with teachers who can offer you the most relevant advice and reassurance. Don’t ignore the revision sessions they put on for you either – make use of the chance to talk to those who really want you to succeed.
If you can find a productive way to do it, the occasional revision session with friends could be really beneficial. Being stuck inside your own head for too long can encourage low moods – humans are sociable creatures and the loneliness of a day alone with trigonometry might understandably take a toll on your happiness. A joint revision sesh could work especially well a bit later into the revision period, when you know the material and can talk it through with one another. It’ll serve to remind you that everyone’s in the same miserable boat, rather than you feeling as though you’re suffering alone.
Feeling out of control can be an unpleasant and anxiety-inducing situation. To avoid this, it’s helpful to feel like you’re getting somewhere by setting yourself achievable goals. By giving yourself ‘wins’ (‘read chapter on Elizabeth I’s foreign policy’…‘annotate a whole poem and not just the non-abstract bits’) you’ll start motivating yourself and feeling on top of things.
Doing past papers is possibly the single most helpful thing you can do to convince yourself that you have control over your performance in exams. Successfully completing these will massively reduce in-exam stress because you know that you’ve done it all before.
Similarly, a healthy dose of self-confidence can help if you’re really panicking in the lead up to exams. It’s important to believe in your own abilities, for example thinking back to mock exams that went well or your teacher’s praise of a practice question you completed.
Finally, remember that exam results don’t define who you are as a person. Contrary to how it might feel at the time, the exact mark you get in your M1 maths module will cease to be important extremely quickly. Clichéd though it may be, simply doing your best is all that matters.
Written by: Ellie Black