Practical tips to help you cope with Exam Season
This month we will focus on exam season.
During these periods it can be helpful to think about the advice you might give to a friend who is struggling when training for a marathon.
You would remind them to nourish their body and their mindset.
That taking rest days is essential to their race preparation.
You might even help them ‘switch it up’ to a different activity if they were experiencing a mental or physical ‘block’.
It is this type of ‘practical kindness’ that we encourage you to offer to yourself during exam season. Remember there is no exam that is worth sacrificing your mental health and well-being for.
You can only do what you can with the energy that you have – and even the most stressful of days will pass. Our Psychology Team have created a range of podcasts and tools to help you overcome study blocks, prepare for exams and mind your mental health.
Clear clutter and organise your space
Research has shown that keeping a tidy, clutter-free study space can help students persist at tasks and stay focused. Set by some time at least once a week to clear your space. Listen to some music and imagine that your tidying is also gifting you more mental space.
During exam season, try to designate one area to be your study space. This might be difficult if you share a room or use the same space to rest in, but see if you can keep a separation between where you study and where you relax. Some students find that even the physical act of placing a sheet over their desk space can help their brain switch into rest mode.
Make a set plan for phone use
When studying, our phone can be the biggest source of distraction. Each time we scroll or watch a new video our brain releases small amounts of dopamine, our reward chemical. This makes it difficult to put our phone away as it is temporarily helping us to feel good and relax.
During periods of exam stress it makes sense that we might use our phone more often as a comfort or way to feel connected. However, spending hours scrolling can lead us to avoid study and build up our discomfort about this. It also is one of the most common reasons that young people fall out of a healthy sleep schedule.
Make a clear commitment for yourself about your phone use during these stressful study periods. Some tips that can help include:
- turning off your phone when studying
- Using the silent or airplane mode
- Giving it to someone in your home for designated times
- Set a time to put it in a different room at night
- Delete apps that you are most likely to scroll on (just for this period)
- Select apps for your wellbeing (if you find this helpful)
- Examples of these Apps include: Meditation, Yoga, Hydration reminders, Study Schedule Planners.
Fuel your Brain and Body
Make a list of what fuels your brain and body.
It can help to think about what gives you energy. Remember that the stress of studying for exams can drain your physical and mental energy more quickly, so you might need to adapt your usual routines for this period.
Eat slow-release, energy rich foods
Certain foods have been shown to boost our memory and learning. Berries, nuts and sources of protein have all been studied for their brain fuel benefits. Slow release energy foods can support our concentration, and you might find that certain supplements or vitamins can help you boost your immune system when responding to stress. Talk to your parents, friends or GP about what you might add or prioritise in your diet during these longer study periods.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Researchers have shown that dehydration negatively affects our ability to concentrate, think clearly and perform well in exams.
So think of water as a vital fuel source of energy when studying.
If it’s difficult to remember to drink throughout the day, make it easier through scheduling breaks into your study plan or putting reminders on your phone. Certain caffeinated drinks (teas, coffees, energy drinks) are known as diuretics – which means they make you want to go to the toilet more frequently, and might leave you feeling unexpectedly dehydrated. So take note of what you are drinking during the day and make sure you’re fueling your brains reserves.
Soak in morning daylight
Getting just 15-20 minutes of daylight in your morning routine can have a powerful effect on your sleep/wake rhythms. You might struggle to go for a walk in the morning, but see if you can try to prioritise this practice during exam periods. Even sitting outside has been shown to boost energy, concentration and helps you get better quality sleep.
Again, we all have different movement needs and comfort zones. However, research shows that even gentle exercise boosts our brains performance.
If you struggle to feel motivation around exercise try these following tips:
- dance, move, stretch in your room to 3 songs
- create a playlist of 5-10 songs and go for a walk for as long as this is playing
- plan movement you enjoy (i.e swimming, yoga, circuits, running)
- get a friend or family member to come with you to a class or on a walk
Mind your mind through Meditation
Listening to a guided meditation or relaxation exercise can support your studying in several ways. It can help you calm quickly when you feel panicked, and release muscle tension in your back and shoulders. Or help you refocus on what you need to do today. It can also help you wind-down or get back to sleep when you’re feeling stressed.
The following are some meditations on our Teen App designed to support your mental health:
Learn how to Study Smarter, not Harder
Smart study skills require us to press pause and take our foot off the pedal. To think about what study strategies are most effective for our style of learning, and to adjust to our strengths and needs.
Check out our blog here on how to create a study smart schedule when studying for exams.
Create a bank of activities that can help you rest & refocus
A top tip to minding your well-being when studying is to create a list of activities that can help you refocus when you lose attention.
Place this list on the wall in front of you or somewhere accesible so that when you’re feeling mentally drained it makes it easier to think about what you need to press reset.
Examples of refocusing activities include:
- Get up and move (walk, dance, jumping jacks)
- Increase body temperature and energy level through gentle exercise or drinking a warm drink
- Set timers for tasks and breaks
- Switch up the type of study you are doing (i.e. draw a diagram, read & answer exam questions, highlight or rewrite notes, get someone to test you on a topic)
- Have a shower or take a bath
- Take a nap or watch a favourite, familiar TV show for 30 mins
You can find these simple refocusing exercises in the Study Stress Section on your Teen App:
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