Exam Season Advice

Exam seasons are horrific aren’t they? Everyone is moody and stressed, over-eating or under-eating, anxious, unfocused and panicking. Overlay this with a sudden desire to get really good grades, a feeling that has stayed dormant throughout term, and people find themselves in a real pickle. Exam season is a bipolar roller coaster of sheer, sleep-deprived determination; or that inexplicable feeling where failing actually seems okay and an inevitable result of your blood, sweat and tears; and you’ve come to terms with that.

Well I personally have gone through one soul-destroying exam season too many, and want the next one to be a moderate success. In other words; to emerge from exam season as more than just the hollow shell of my former, pre-exam self.

So I have devised a tool kit for handling exam season and revising in a way that nourishes my health (physical and mental) as well as being optimum for committing an inordinate amount of information to memory.

Here it is.

Take regular naps

Think I’m giving myself an excuse to doze off for a few hours and claim it’s for the greater good of my exams? Well yes, I am claiming that. Naps will help you revise better, honest. Many scientific studies have demonstrated time and time again that sleeping is vital for learning and memory. Countless participants have exhibited much better memory of skills and facts they learn if they nap after they have practised them. Also, sleeping allows the brain to detox from toxins by cleansing the brain tissue with Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) much more effectively. Not to mention that you’ll feel more energised and alert after a nap. Scientific studies have also shown that any length of time of nap is beneficial, so no pressure to make sure you only sleep for a certain amount of time. I personally would recommend either a short nap, between 10 and 20 minutes, so you wake up before you enter really deep sleep; or 90 minutes, which is a full sleep cycle. After 90 minutes you should be close to wakefulness anyway so the most refreshing time to wake up. Also, there’s an increase in melatonin (the sleep hormone) at around 3pm, so if you can plan a nap between 3pm and 4pm, then even better.

Exercise

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But even the fittest among us can find many an excuse during exam season to ditch the gym in favour of spending long hours in the library hunched over a desk. It’s too tempting to convince yourself that any moment not spent pouring over your notes is wasted, but actually it’s vital to remain active throughout the revision period. Exercise will help you sleep better (which helps you learn better, remember!), improve circulation, increase oxygen to your muscles and brain, release endorphin’s into your blood, and mean that after the last exam you don’t feel like a saggy blob, struggling to find the strength to walk to the pub let alone get back to the gym.

Snack on blueberries

Blueberries enhance your memory! Blueberry juice also counts. It’s the anthocyanins in blueberries which increase neuronal signalling in brain centres and mediate memory function. Blueberry’s are being investigated as a treatment for memory related diseases in old age!

Know yourself

Are you an owl or a lark? This means are you a late riser (owl) or an early riser (lark)? If you are an owl, then the time of day you are most functional and alert at is in the evening around 6pm. If you are a lark, the morning at around 11am. Plan your revision schedule to suit your body clock. I personally am an owl, and am not an intelligent, present human being until about midday, after a coffee. Therefore I always find myself beginning revision around 1pm, peaking at around 7pm and finishing just after midnight. I always felt guilty for going to bed so late and getting up so late, but this suited me, and if that’s the way it is, so be it.

Get interested

The exams I’ve done really well in are the exams that I’ve taken an interest in outside of my lectures. For each module I’ve done this term, I have a found a non-fiction, easy-going book about the subject I’m studying, aimed at the laymen, and I read that. Usually the books are filled with interesting facts, and presented quite basically; so even though it may not be a direct study material, it provides a framework on which to stick the facts from lectures on to. These books try to be as stimulating as possible, and help you to realise that the dry, baffling and enormous content of your lectures can actually be really interesting and relevant.

Be pre-prepared

It’s possibly too late by now, but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s no good trying to learn your course from scratch in the 3 weeks before the exam. This was me in the summer of my 2nd year. I had been to the first 8 or so lectures of all my modules, and not a single one after that. I was meant to catch up over Easter but was still reeling after March (lab project and dissertation) and got distracted at home with work and friends. So I got back after Easter with a month before my first exam, having to learn 4 courses from the very beginning. Not smart. This time, I have consolidated my learning throughout the term and now have a base on which to build my revision on, taking a lot of pressure off the revision period.

Now you have my revision guide, go forth, poor desperate students, and remember that in the grand old scheme of life, exam results aren’t really that important.

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