As soon as the date hits 1st May, my first thought is “OH MY GOD IT’S EXAM SEASON!” and the feeling of dread washes over me. On the morning of an exam you’ll find me in the bathroom and over the toilet clutching my stomach as the nerves knock me sick. I can’t eat and the only reason I’m sipping water is to ease the dry mouth that’s brought on by the nerves.
So, this post is as much for me as it is for you. Slowly, as I get older, I’m learning how to control my nerves and turn them into positive energy. Luckily, I have always done well and exam nerves have never stopped me succeeding my full potential. Here, I want to talk about a few ways that help me to get my nerves under control (well, at least before the day of the exam anyway). Hopefully by posting this it can be a reminder to myself too about how to look after myself when I feel stressed. These tips aren’t just for exam-takers though – they can be useful for anyone who finds balancing deadlines and workloads stressful. Most of us do – you’re not alone – but minimising stress will make you feel so much better.
1. Be organised. Being organised and on top of things is bound to make you feel better as it’s one less thing to worry about. Here’s some organisation tips to stay on top of your work and/or revision.
- Make sure your notes are up-to-date. If you’ve missed any classes and therefore don’t have the notes for them, make sure you catch up as soon as possible so you don’t fall behind with your revision. Ask your teacher for any worksheets they have given out during the class and ensure you get any notes that were taken, maybe from the teacher or a classmate you know would’ve got all the notes down.
- Use folders and subject dividers. Buy a ring binder (or two) and organise your classwork in this. Make sure it’s ordered chronologically in the order you have been taught it in. You can use subject dividers to separate your notes into the different topics and subject areas you have studied.
- Keep any essays or practice exam papers you have done. By doing so, you’re keeping your feedback and you can learn from any mistakes you have made. It’s always a good idea to compare your answers with those written in the mark scheme. You could always re-write some of your answers as practise, taking your feedback into consideration. NOTE: It’s a really good idea to do some practice exam questions as a part of your revision. That way, the real thing won’t seem as daunting as you’ll get a feel for the layout of the exam and the timings that suit you best, especially for essay based subjects. You can also see which topics are your strongest and weakest so you can organise your revision from that point onwards accordingly.
- Draw up a revision timetable. I always do this and when I first started sitting exams, I’d make daily plans of what to revise. It was helpful but sometimes unrealistic – you don’t always know if you’ll have plans or other work that will interfere with your daily revision plan. I found it more beneficial to set weekly goals, for example which topics and sub-topics I would want to have learnt by the end of the week. Make sure your revision timetable is realistic and easy to stick to, factoring in some extra time incase you have to recap something or you make plans that change your schedule.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense, ask a class mate or a teacher. I would sometimes write down the questions I wanted to ask the teacher in my next class and then I didn’t forget. Make sure you fill in any gaps, don’t be afraid to ask. Another good idea is to ask a teacher if there are any resources they have that can act as a checklist for your revision. For instance, if you have a copy of a breakdown of the course and the different topics you have covered, you can ensure there’s nothing you’re going to miss when you’re revising. If you’re writing an assessed essay, why not agree to swap work with one of your classmates so you can proof read one another’s and give/receive feedback? Just make sure this is allowed though and ensure you don’t copy each other’s ideas in a way that would be plagiarism. My lecturer always tells me we should write our essays for someone that is knowledgeable but not an expert in the subject. So, I ask my mum or a friend that isn’t studying for the same degree as me to look over my work. If they can understand my points, that’s a good sign!
Now that’s all the exam specific tips out of the way, here are some more general tips on how to minimise stress and feel good.
3. Do some exercise and/or get outside. I am by no means a fan of exercise so there’s no way I’m going to be telling you to head to the gym for full workouts and weightlifting. If that’s for you though – go for it! But for me, the thought of going to the gym and exercising around others is not a way to relax. However, going for a brisk walk (or a run if you’re feeling brave) always helps to clear the mind as its a chance to forget about your revision, deadline or whatever else you have going on whilst you get some fresh air at the same time. Teaming up with a family member, a friend or your S.O. is also a good idea; you can have a natter whilst you’re getting some exercise and doing it together is great for motivation.
4. Make alterations to your diet. Again, I’m not going to tell you to go on a diet, this is just about little changes to make you feel better within yourself. I suffer from acid reflux and therefore I try and make the best choices when it comes to my meals so I can avoid feeling full and sick, especially before an exam because with my nerves I’ll be feeling sick anyway! Sometimes eating little but often is a good option for me and cutting down on the carbs also helps. If there’s any food that doesn’t quite agree with you and your body, finding an alternative or cutting it out completely, if possible, will certainly make you feel better within yourself and your body will definitely thank you for it.
5. Cut out toxicity. Whether it’s people, places, experiences…quite frankly, life’s too short and you don’t need it, especially during stressful times like exam season. Cut out those that only bring negative energy to your life, cut out doing things that weigh you down and don’t make you happy. Find people, things and experiences that bring nothing but happiness into your life. Your circle might be smaller but quality over quantity is definitely applicable when referring to circles of friends. It took me a good while to see that some of my “friends” weren’t really friends at all and when I got to university, I took the opportunity to take myself away from that circle that felt very negative. Instantly I was then left with a couple of true friends I knew I could count on and I also made so many more friends at university anyway. Don’t be scared to make moves that you need to make in order to have a happier life.
6. Take a bubble bath. It’s pretty simple but who doesn’t love a hot bath with lots of bubbles? Put some of your favourite music on in the background – I love anything that makes me feel relaxed – and try to close your eyes and enjoy the moment. That sounds pretty daft considering you’re only sat in the bath, but what I mean by that is don’t let your mind drift into thinking about things you need to do in the next few days, deadlines you’ve got, exams you have coming up and so on. Just try to close your eyes, focus on the music and that moment.
7. Make time to do something you love. Whether it’s blogging, writing, exercising, baking, making, going out with family/friends/your other half, listening to music or something else…do it! If you’re worrying about something it’ll act as a distraction if you are fully engrossed in something else, especially something you have a passion for and enjoy. Even if its exam season or you have a list as long as your arm of things to do, saving some time for yourself is so important to help you refuel and spend some time unwinding and doing something you love, no matter how simple that is.
8. Sleep enough and switch off. I’m the world’s worst for sitting in bed scrolling on my phone before I go to sleep but on the occasions when I do put my phone away at least half an hour before bed, I find it so much easier to get to sleep. It’s definitely something I need to commit to doing every night. Winding down before bed and switching your phone and bright lights off is so much better than filling your mind with all the stuff you’ll see on social media before you sleep, especially when you have an exam the next day. Heading to bed earlier and taking the time to chill out (without your phone) before bed is the better option. Be sure not to leave anything until last minute too, such as revision. If you have to, get an early night and wake up earlier in the morning to start it.
9. Know when to say no. Make sure you don’t over-do it and you make time for yourself. If you’ve had a busy week and you’re asked to go out or do something you don’t really fancy doing, don’t be afraid to say no – making time to relax and unwind if you have a busy schedule is essential. Also, know when to say no if you have revision or vital tasks to complete. Going out, procrastinating and leaving your revision until a later date will only make you more stressed in the long-term. It’s all about balance.
10. Meditate and be mindful. It’s not for everyone and it takes time to get used to. I’d really recommend the app “Headspace”, there’s some great tips and tricks on there for relaxation techniques and how to deal with several issues such as anxiety, a lack of self-esteem, how to cope with cancer and so much more. I’m also trying to be mindful and it’s definitely helping me cope with any “what if” worries or stresses I have about things that are happening in the future and it’s something I want to integrate more into my daily life; I think the concept of mindfulness is so fascinating and helpful if you’re willing to give it a go.
- All you can do is your best.
- If it doesn’t go well the first time, don’t give up. Try again and it will work out in the end, even if it takes a little longer or requires a different route.
- Don’t feel bad about making time for yourself or cutting something out of your schedule (for example, posting on your blog) because it isn’t a priority. You know what you need to do to feel good and to do well. If you want to see more about my thoughts on this, see my related recent post.
If you’ve got any tips you’d like to share, please comment as I’d love to hear them and I’m sure those reading would too!