Surviving Exams

Top 10 Tips on Beating Exam Stress

Okay, people, who out there is right in the middle of that exam-taking phase of their lives?

I just finished my final school exams, meaning that I am now technically Out Of School and, therefore, automatically grown up and responsible, or so I’m told.

I can only hope that my results will match my euphoria at being finished at last.

But getting there was a struggle and a half. There were those 4 am moments of waking up and suddenly feeling certain that I missed an exam and would get a zero on it. Or forgetting my books all over the place and spending more time panicking and trying to find them than actually, you know, studying.

I feel as though I amassed a certain amount of knowledge on how to get through exam season, and in case any reader ever stumbles across this blog who could benefit- I hope this helps. It helped me.

10. Start in time.
This is really the only way to guarantee your best possible effort. Make sure to have a good set of notes way ahead of time. Don’t let yourself slip into the oh-*§$&%-it’s-tomorrow thing. I have a friend who did just that in this last set of exams. Don’t.

9. Get organised.
You know that feeling where you have a huge stack of paper with information on it which somehow needs to be transferred into your brain? Well, staring at the pile doesn’t help. Neither does putting the stuff  under your pillow whilst you sleep. I know this, because I’ve tried. Instead, make up a schedule. Cut that huge pile into more attainable lumps and give yourself plenty of time for each one. And then more time to go over them all.

8. Sleep.
I didn’t sleep at all the night before one of my exams, and so I can say with confidence that it’s a terrible plan. It was like writing through a fog of sleepy pink cotton wool for 300 minutes. Not fun, not good, so try to get several good nights in before exams.

7. Tidy up your workspace.
Whilst this one works, don’t let it turn into procrastination.  You know, tidying your entire house because even that’s more fun than the whole revision thing. However, it helps me feel more focused if I have, say, a square metre of space around me which does not look like the rest of my room (think aftermath of a brutal and messy apocalypse).

6. Drink and eat well.
If your brain is dehydrated, it won’t do so well. That’s science. I’m fairly sure that lots of fruit and veg will also help the motors run better. In Germany, we’re allowed to eat during exams, too, but that’s mainly because they are five hours long and you would otherwise starve towards the end. And it gives you something to do if you’re able to chow on Malteasers and pick out particularly weirdly shaped nuts from the trail mix whilst thinking a problem through.

5. Take breaks.
This one has always been a non-issue for me, because my concentration span tends to freefall after about thirty minutes and so I can never get my brain to stay focused for much longer. My entire revision consisted of breaks with some reading in between. But a friend of mine spent the entire time cramming, twelve hours a day, and very nearly had a nervous breakdown. So I think there’s a balance to be had here- don’t work for more than a few hours without pausing, yet don’t do that thing where you decide to watch one YouTube video and end up binging on everything danisnotonfire has ever uploaded. Find the sweet spot in between. And never forget, in this situation, tumblr is poison. It’s far too addictive to resist.

4. Find your best learning methods.
For me, it’s writing everything out about a million times and then explaining my notes to unfortunate roped-in outsiders (thanks, Mum and Dad). For my brother, it’s making large and colourful posters with all the info on. Some people put tricky things on the doorpost and read them every time they go through the door. Maybe you might benefit from explanatory videos, maybe you find audio books great for remembering things. My history teacher recommended going for long walks and taking your notes with you. This might work for you. Try out a few different methods and see where you get the best results.

3. Get into groups.
If you have mates who will be taking part in the same examinations as you, then meeting up now and again might be a good way to assess your progress and check that you’re learning the right stuff. Make sure, though, that you really are learning- a lot of my study time with friends turned into nattering time, or what Germans call a Kaffeekränzchen. That’s fine, but only up to a point. Discussing the Divergent films never taught anybody maths (unless you know differently, in which case, oh please tell me).

2. Go over past papers.
This works in several ways. If the material doesn’t change too much from year to year, you can use them for revision and check your answers against the mark scheme, getting a feel for the way you’re meant to present information. It’s also a confidence thing- when you’re handed that dreaded piece of paper with the exam questions on it, you’ll have a much better feeling if you recognise the format and know how the marking works.

1. Don’t Panic!
Take the advice of Dad’s Army veteran Jones and “don’t panic”. If you find exam stress a killer, maybe relaxation techniques will work for you. Generally, sticking  consistently to a logical plan of action certainly helps me feel more on top of the game and less aaaargh. Don’t forget to eat and sleep, and prepare all of your things the night before if you need to. For me, this mainly meant packing a huge box with enough food to keep a small army going through quite a lengthy siege, which, thinking about it, is not a terrible exam analogy anyway. (For future reference, tuna and mayo sandwiches, some fruit, trail mix, and a party pack of Malteasers are the biz.)

This tips might work for you, they might not. That’s the beauty of humanity, we’re all different. Give them a try and see how it goes.

Also- and I’m not including this as a tip, because it isn’t- don’t waste the opportunity to capitalise on the terrible revision horrors you’re going through for familial pity points. I have never got away with less washing up than I did in the last few months. In fact, when family chores come around, I’m really rather missing the times of being holed up in my room with my books and the Internet. Now they’re expecting me to be a productive member of society again.

Basically, chin up, get the books out and make sure you have a good battle plan. It’ll all be over before you know it, honest.

I wish you strength and perseverance for any exams coming your way, and tell us in the comments whether you have any tips of your own, are doing exams at the moment or have long since passed that time of your life and are glad as heck.


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