Every student, young or old, knows what time of year it is; Easter and exam time. I was once told by my Politics A-Level teacher that we were not to call the Easter holidays a ‘holiday’ – it should be called a ‘vacation’.
“Neville, a holiday implies no work – however, you have merely vacated the school’s premises, and work must still be done.”
Although I hated to give any kind of credence to my teachers, I had to admit that, in this case, my teacher was right. No matter how hard one tries to shy away from revision and work, exam season will always make you pay.
Now, I won’t sugarcoat it: even though I’m a First Year, I know the pain of exams and how much hangs in the balance. For a lot of you, these exams will contribute to your final degree classification. For the minority of you, the exams ‘don’t count’, but companies still often ask for your First Year results, so don’t countenance future failure by slacking. However, despite the importance of exams, it is always crucial not to lose sight of your physical and mental well-being – do as best you can and work hard, but don’t sacrifice the quality of your life for it. With this in mind, I hope to share with you a few tips and tricks that I have garnered in my time to help you get through a tough exam season.
Now, mental health is very trendy these days, and often is cheapened by the ‘quick fix’ and ‘clickbait’ articles. Mental health, is a very serious component of a person’s wider well-being and health. Your brain is the driver of everything else – treat it like the engine of a car; that is to say, without it you can’t run, or if it is damaged, you can’t run well.
Therefore, much like the said engine, it is important to keep it fuelled, oiled, and (in moderation) used to prevent rust.
Fuel for your mind comes in different fashions, and during exam season, people often forget what fuel works for your mind and what doesn’t. Here is a list of good fuel for your mind:
- Healthy food – vegetables, meat, unsaturated fat, carbohydrates.
- Fresh air and sunlight.
- Personal interaction.
- Variety in activity/spontaneity.
- Restful sleep.
I don’t want to come across as condescending – I know a lot of these are obvious, but I have a checklist that I complete every morning and evening to see as to whether I have hit all these components.
For brevity’s sake, as well as to not insult the intelligence of your good selves, I won’t go into great depth as to why these things are important. Suffice it to say that your mind and brain requires the right levels of hormones, vitamins, and chemicals to function at a healthy level – the actions in the list should promote this.
What do I mean when I say, ‘keep your mind oiled?’. Well, I mean make sure it remains supple. For the majority of students (myself included), we are young and our brains are like sponges which soak up huge swathes of information.
In order to perform best in your exams and tests, you’ve got to make sure that you have oiled your brain with the right knowledge. You might have a terrific powerhouse up in that nut of yours, but if you haven’t learnt the requisite information, then when you want the cogs to turn, they’ll jam just after you’ve filled in your candidate number.
Often, this means revision. I can’t tell you the best way to revise – it genuinely differs between people and circumstance. For example, I often revise with flashcards and completing past papers ad nauseam. However, for others, mind-maps are better, and for others, copying note after note.
The fuel and the oil go hand in hand: if you fuel your mind well, then your revision process will be expedited. If you revise well, you will be more motivated to keep your fuel constant and clean.
Okay, you’re all fuelled and oiled, but before you hit the track – you may want to think about doing a few practice runs. This is where I suggest you do some practice tests or assessments. Or at the very least, simulating an exam day. This is to avoid sudden onset stage-fright, or simply misjudging a factor, such as your commute time.
Ultimately, if your engine has been purring away for a bit of time, and has got to know the track well, then it won’t stall or be averse to the timed-lap. By extension of the analogy, if you have completed some practice days and tests, your mind is less likely to undergo a flood of adrenaline and shock when you open your exam booklet.
For Warwick University students, here is a link to the University’s past papers:
Yes, I’ve gone on a lot about mental health, but (here comes the car analogy again) there’s no point having an engine if you don’t have a chassis, wheels, and body to make the whole contraption complete and functional.
Basically, just because an exam is meant to challenge your mind, doesn’t mean you can neglect your body. Not for the first time, I am dismissing the mind-body problem, and telling you that the mind and body are interconnected. If you don’t look after your mind, your body will suffer, and vice versa.
Exercising releases endorphins – a group of hormones that relieve pain and stress. This is super useful when revising; trust me, after trying to work through Logic, there is nothing better than relieving my frustration and anger with a furious chest and arms session.
You’ll be able to see a link between this and the ‘fuel’ for your mind – if you eat well, it directly affects your mind and body. Who knew broccoli was such a great panacea? In all seriousness, the phrase, ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ isn’t so far off. Start eating properly and lay off the Aldi pizzas!
You’ve prepared well – you have a healthy body, and a healthy mind. Now comes the final test – the exam itself. In the words of the illustrious poet, Marshall Mathers, ‘you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow’.
Here are my tips (however obvious they may seem) to make sure you don’t slip up when the time counts:
- Create a checklist the night before of all the things you need to do the morning of your exam; brush teeth, dress, etc. I know it seems stupid, but it means you can do everything without stressing more than you need to.
- Prepare everything the night before. That means, lay out your clothes, pack your bag and put it by the door, and so on. Again, minimise any undue stress.
- Get to bed early, but not too early that you lie in bed and stress. You should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Eat breakfast on the morning of your exam – remember what I said about fuel?
- Get there early, but not too early. Have enough time to compose yourself and not be late. Don’t be so early that you freak out for hours by the exam room.
- Have a little sweet before you go into the exam – release some feel-good chemicals in your brain and get a little sugar energy hit.
- Don’t talk about the exam after its over – its done, forget about it, move on. The longer you dwell on it, the more it will eat away at you even if you actually did well.
Basically, prepare enough to make your life as easy as possible and minimise any slip-ups and stress. You’ve done everything you can to pull this off, if it doesn’t work out, you have nothing to be ashamed about.
My South-African English teacher once said to us that if you have revised, then you should not worry. If you have not revised, then you should not worry. In both circumstances, you know the probable outcome. And so, I leave you with a pithy quote from him, ‘the best advice is not to revise’ – although you might not want to take that too literally!