How I get mentally and physically ready for exams

05 Dec 2019
By Rob Slade, Writer at Unite Students

As if it’s exam and deadline season already. I always found it a challenging time, with the temptation of socialising and relaxing constantly at war with the need to study.

It’s important to find a balance in order to limit the stress and worry you have to deal with at such a hectic time. I always found it quite tough, but I learnt with each deadline and exam.

In the end, I worked out the best ways for me to mentally and physically prepare for the rigors of exam season, and I hope they manage to give you a helping hand too.

Don’t go to bed early

This probably isn’t what you’d expect me to say, but I’m speaking from experience here. I always used to try and get an early night before exams so I had plenty of sleep before the big day. But what I actually found was that most of the time it was counterproductive.

I’d head to bed an hour or so earlier than usual and then end up lying there, unable to sleep. More than once, I’d be lying in bed feeling wide awake and stressing about the fact that I couldn’t get to sleep. It wasn’t the greatest way to prepare for an exam.

Instead, I encourage you to just go to sleep when you feel tired. I’m not saying stay up until the early hours, but wait until your body and mind starts to wind down before embracing your duvet. To help it along, try not to be on your phone just before bed and instead watch one of your favourite programmes or read a book.

Fuel your body right

From a day or two before your exam, make sure you’re eating well. You don’t have to go full on and binge on salad leaves all day every day, but some small changes are worth making. Try to have a couple of wholesome meals before exam day. Not a good cook? You could always treat yourself to a meal out with friends, which is also a great way to de-stress.

Aside from that, try to get some brain-boosting foods into your diet. Wholegrains (such as brown rice or wholewheat pasta) will give you long lasting energy, rather than spikes and drops, while blueberries, broccoli, nuts and leafy green vegetables are thought to improve your brain function.

One of the biggest things for me was staying hydrated. Drinking plenty of water helped me focus and also helped to keep hunger at bay. Many believe that small portions of dark chocolate are great for boosting focus, too. Oh, and having your favourite thing for breakfast is a good way to start the day as well.

Make a plan and stick to it

The sooner you get organised the better. At times, I’ve been just a couple of weeks out from a deadline and really wasn’t where I should have been. I quickly learned that making a plan was the right way forward.

I always struggled to find the right balance between socialising, relaxing and studying, so having my days planned out helped me to get work done while still having plenty of leisure time. It also meant that there were never any surprises; I knew what I needed to do, so there shouldn’t have been any last minute panics.

In fact, I actually gave myself some contingency time, aiming to cover everything I needed to with a few days to spare. As a result, if one day I just didn’t feel like doing work, I could have a day of downtime, without being put in a stressful situation where I had to rush through things.

Stay fresh ahead of your exam

Sometimes there’s just no getting around it and the day and night before an exam is spent furiously cramming. But if you’re lucky enough to not be in that position and are happy with all that you’ve covered, I’d encourage you to set aside some time in the days running up to your exam.

Spend some time with friends, watch a film or do some exercise. Essentially, the idea is to do something that you enjoy so you go into exam day feeling good. Then, the following morning you can recap on anything you need to over breakfast before the main event.

Don’t put yourself under too much pressure

I always found there was a lot of pressure and expectation at uni. It came from all directions. From lecturers, family, and even myself. But I decided to put it out of my mind. I was going to do the best I could on the day and I would be happy with that.

You’ve got to remember, if one deadline or exam doesn’t quite go to plan, there will be other opportunities for you to excel. And it’s worth remembering that there’s more to uni than exams. Take part in societies, clubs and any other projects you can and your future will be all the brighter for it.

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Rob is a writer at Unite Students.