Surviving Exam Season: from one stressed student to another

Exam season can be incredibly stressful as a university student; constant comparisons to students ‘studying more than you’, 200+ items in your Quizlet you need to memorise, other deadlines looming, etc. As students we can invest ourselves into studying for our exams so much, we forget to nourish the brains we are using. One of my past teachers once said to me, ‘you wouldn’t dream of running onto a football pitch with a broken leg, so why push yourself through a study session with a brain that isn’t feeling 100%.’

I think it’s part of student culture to prove how hard your working with unhealthy coping mechanisms, i.e. think about how many times you’ve heard a conversation between students comparing how much sleep they’ve had the night before. It can jump from ‘I pulled an all-nighter studying for this exam last night,’ to ‘Well I pulled an all-nighter too, AND I was clubbing the night before,’ to ‘Well I did all of things and also completed 4x past papers.’ We almost have a competition with who can push themselves the most, and whilst this can be productive for some people, we often face detrimental effects from it. This piece is just to remind you of how important self-care can be in these times, and some of my practical tips for your exam season experience:

  1. Frequently check-in with yourself throughout the day: Are you hydrated? When was the last time you took a break? Have you eaten a home-cooked meal today? Did you sleep enough last night? Do you really need that fourth coffee?
  2. Avoid shutting people out: talk to your friends and family, relieve some stress with them as they may be going through similar situations. Also, know when you need to ask for some external help.
  3. Find practical self-care techniques/down-time which works for you: if we are being honest, scrolling through Instagram for 2 hours or having a scary long Netflix binge isn’t true self-care. They can often be mechanisms we use to escape from situations we are in, instead we should be looking at other things such as finding a creative hobby we enjoy, spending time with loved ones, exercising, cooking, the list truly goes on!
  4. Take short breaks: many studies have found that having time to reboot is essential for productivity, meaning taking time between revision sessions can help you be more efficient and effective. Know your brain and its limits through experimentation – I personally use the Pomodoro method (25 mins on/5 mins off), but I also have friends who can go for 3 hours straight. Block time for these breaks into your schedule to assure they happen.
  5. Try your best not to cram: cramming can actually cause you do worse on exams since your brain is being overworked, and this exhaustion can feed into a spiral of negative thoughts and feelings, such as anxiety, frustration, and confusion, making it harder for material to be understood. Instead, take some time to divide your learning into manageable chunks, to be entered into a revision timetable spread across the lead up to your exams. I like to use check-lists with smaller revision/work goals, so I see the workload as achievable instead of threatening.
  6. Detox your environment: whether its a negative friendship tying you down, an item on your to-do list nagging at you, or tidying your room, your brain won’t function effectively in a chaotic space. Find the right environment you need to be working in, and create that for yourself.
  7. Plan your day the night before: having a to-do list to wake up to can often be inspiring and forces you to take action.
  8. Make plans and schedule things to look forward to: don’t completely change your life because you have exams to complete. In moderation, make sure you still, go out for dinner, catch a drink with your friends, or go walk. Try to maintain the mentality of coexisting with your exams, instead of allowing them to take over your life.
  9. Look forwards, not backwards: instead of dwelling on what has gone wrong or missed revision hours, focus on the good, and look at things you can do to improve for next time.

Of course, this isn’t an extensive list of tips, and may not work for everyone, but they are generally the key tactics which keep me sane. If you have any other tips which work for you please feel free to leave them in the comments!

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