8 Ways to Make it Through the Exam Period Without Losing your Mind
Late-night cramming sessions. A diet of cheap takeaways. Panicked conversations with worryingly well-prepared coursemates...
There is no denying that the lead-up to exams is a pretty stressful business. But there are some simple steps that you can take to ensure that you don’t emerge from the process with a 1000-yard stare.
So to give you the energy and attitude that you will need to push on through, here are our 8 ways to make it through the exam period without losing your mind.
Take it from Sonocent, your years at Uni will be the best of your life. So don’t waste a big chunk of them stressing out ahead of every big exam. You will regret it when you’re middle-aged and the highlight of your week is creosoting the fence.
Mindfulness is about making a conscious effort to notice what you are feeling and seeing in the moment. It is a response to our unfortunate tendency to obsess about past and future events, while the present passes us by.
In the lead-up to exams, you can destress by taking a couple of minutes every few hours to practice mindfulness meditation. This simply involves sitting still and making a conscious effort to observe the play of your sensations and what is happening around you. Incense candles are not necessary. Nor is spirituality. Mindfulness is related to practices used by Buddhists and Taoists, but it can be lifted from its religious context.
In addition to setting aside time for meditation, you can use mindfulness techniques when performing other activities, such as taking your exams. According to the Taoist concept of Wu Wei (non-doing) we perform tasks most effectively without strenuous conscious effort. An example is the guitarist who performs incredibly complex pieces without thinking about what each finger is doing at every given moment.
For a clear and practical guide to using mindfulness techniques in your daily life, read: Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
If you are interested in the Taoist roots of mindfulness read: Tao: The Watercourse Way, by Alan Watts.
Check out this short instructional video for a guide to the basics of meditation.
Reading for pleasure is a good way to take your mind off your exams. Why not set aside an hour for reading each evening before you go to bed, and escape into another world? It will feel great to look at a page of text that is in no way related to your course.
There are a number of novels that every student should have read, and this is your chance to start making some headway. In no particular order, here’s our top 5:
When the big exam bus appears on the horizon, you should obviously put some thought into mildly consequential things such as your revision schedule. But of arguably greater importance is the music that will be your soundtrack as you cram all those factoids into your brain.
In our view, the songs that you choose should meet 3 criteria:
- No lyrics - How are you meant to read and remember words when your musical player is pumping out more words, many of which are probably more interesting than the words in your books?
- Upbeat but chillaxed - Gloomy music is best avoided at this time of stress, but nor do you want banging techno. So Moon Safari rather than Music for the Jilted Generation, Music has the Right to Children rather than Go Plastic.
- Beats - For whatever reason, songs with repeating beats seem to provide a good soundtrack to revision. Perhaps because your brain recognises a pattern and devotes less energy to anticipating where the song will go next.
Coming soon: Our ultimate revision playlist
Back when Sonocent revised for exams, we subsisted on a diet of packet soups and those Ramen noodles that they sell for 50p at Asda (year 2000 prices). But, on reflection, this was not the wisest policy. How is your brain meant to remember stuff when you are denying it virtually every type of important nutrient?
Fresh fish, wholegrains, veg, nuts, seeds and superfruits are all scientifically proven to get the little grey cells working at maximum capacity. Buy in bulk, make a couple of delicious, simple recipes and freeze in tupperware containers to save time and cash.
Check out these 10 simple ingredients for boosting your brainpower
For 100 budget recipes, invest in the brilliant cookbook A Girl Called Jack, by Jack Monroe
Remembering important stuff is a whole lot easier when you use mnemonics.
Doubtless you are already familiar with several popular mnemonics. For instance, one of the first things a budding musician is taught is the mnemonic, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, for remembering the notes on the stave.
Mnemonics come in many forms (poems, acronyms, phrases, visual devices), but each one presents information in a form that the brain is more likely to retain.
In truth, it’s a bit ridiculous to wander around with a rain cloud over your head at exam time.
Things really aren’t that bad, are they?
Chances are you are young, healthy and carefree. And you don’t have to start paying back that massive student loan for a few years yet.
To fix things in their true context and sail through times of strife with a grin on your face, acquaint yourself with the work of the Stoic philosophers.
They lived thousands of years ago but have much of relevance to teach us about our own times.
The fundamental Stoic teaching is that we inflict greater suffering on ourselves by whingeing and moaning about negative events than we suffer from the events themselves.
To combat this, the Stoics recommend you devote some time each day to negative visualisation. It sounds depressing, but actually it will cheer you up. For example, if you are worried that you won’t get that top grade, imagine how it would feel if you were denied the chance to sit the exam by an angry 30-foot tall, scaly green monster. How dreadful that would be!
- For more about how Stoic philosophy can help you cope with life’s ups and downs, read Letters from a Stoic, by the philosopher Seneca
These days you can turn to apps and software to help you remember facts for big exams.
There are many tools out there, but we would certainly recommend looking at mind mapping software.
With a mind mapping tool such as MindView, you can brainstorm ideas, make connections, visualise concepts, think critically and, ultimately, embed your knowledge of key topics.
In addition to all these benefits, using mindmapping software, or creating your own mindmaps with pen and paper, is a fun way to mix up your revision schedule and take a break from the text books.
We all think more clearly when we have had a good night’s sleep. And there is plenty of scientific research into how we can get one...
We would recommend switching off electronic devices and dimming the lights a few hours before you hit the sack. Using devices that emit blue light before bed is proven to hinder sleep, so this really is the perfect time to put the iPad down and reach for a book. If you are a light sleeper, you should also consider investing in a sleep mask and some earplugs (especially if you live in halls!).
Try to plan your revision schedule in advance so that you can get a good 8 hours every night. All-night cramming sessions are counterproductive and they will have a negative impact on your mood.
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