This article was originally published exactly one year ago today: April 16, 2010. I know it’s no excuse, but it’s exam time all over again, so I haven’t had much time to escape the study grind and write new content. For now, I hope that this old content can serve to inspire you in this stressful time!
It’s that time of year, folks! Crunch time. Exams are fast approaching (or maybe over, if you go to certain schools) and it’s time to buckle down, bite the bullet and get to work. Although most of my readers have probably taken exams before, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned the hard way about exam time.
Lesson 1: Plan Your Meals
As a university student, I know that food and nutrition is not always the number one thing on your mind. Especially if you have a huge paper to write or a physics exam to cram for. But it is a fact that your brain uses more energy than any other organ in your body: 20 % of the body’s energy consumption. (1) Can we think about that for a second?? That is one fifth of your entire body’s energy intake. Think of how much energy goes into digestion, muscle movement, etc, and then imagine how much energy is going into your wee little brain. That statistic also doesn’t take into account how much energy your brain is using when it is in exam overdrive! Sitting in the library for hours upon end may seem like you’re not being very active, but your brain needs fuel to keep learning. That’s where eating comes in.
Any of these problems sound familiar?
- Major distraction: Suddenly you can’t stop looking around, picking up your phone, chatting with your friends.
- Sluggishness: You feel like you can’t stay awake!
- Stress: Everything feels out of hand, you can’t focus and you suddenly feel like everything is crashing down on you!
Your brain needs energy. Energy = glucose. Glucose = food. It’s a simple equation, and all you have to do is make sure you’re getting enough food. And Remember: it may not seem like you have time to go eat, after all you have so much to do! But just remember that you won’t absorb information, be motivated or stay focused without fueling your brain.
Here’s how to do it:
At the beginning of the day, set times for when you’ll eat.
Bring along snacks and water to munch on in between meals.
Have a friend look out for you and make sure you’re making time to eat.
DON’T rely on energy drinks. They will give you a brief period of intense focus, but then you will crash. It’s much better to get long term energy from your food.
Great Snack Ideas
Edamame beans, Clif Bars, trail mixes, fresh fruit, popcorn, assorted nuts and dried fruit.
(*Careful though, these snacks have lots of good fats and calories that are perfect for studying, but don’t overdo it!)
Lesson 2: Give Yourself A Break!
The only thing more important than studying in this stressful time is not studying. Wait! Stop! Don’t take that as permission to skip out on all your exams and start the summer early! I know, it’s too bad. But it’s important to incorporate little bits of freedom and relaxation into your study schedule.
Why You Need Study Breaks
You’re under a lot of stress. Research shows that people under stress in the long term experience as much as a 14% reduction in the size of their hippocampus (2), the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. If you’re extremely stressed out, your brain goes into panic mode, and it’s impossible to think straight. You all know what I’m talking about! A great way to reduce stress is to take a well-deserved break and do something relaxing.
Here’s How To Do It:
Plan it! At the beginning of the day, make a little deal with yourself. For every ___ hour(s) of studying, you will relax for ___ minutes. Keep to your schedule!
Give yourself permission! Stop feeling guilty every time you take a break. You need them in order to think properly, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Set it out in time intervals. Too often, we deny ourselves breaks and end up sneaking relaxing activities: by checking email, our phones or going to the bathroom/water fountain/vending machine/our friend’s study carrel. That’s a waste of time, because it leaves you without any solid chunks of studying time. It’s important to block out your relaxing and studying time so that you can get the most out of each.
Some Break-Time Ideas:
- Stretch, do some exercise or some deep breathing. Get your body moving and the blood flowing. Otherwise, you’ll have a rude awakening the next morning when your body is sore from sitting hunched over all day.
- Indulge in an activity you love. For me, I love planning out my summer, brainstorming blog ideas or browsing fashion websites. What do you love to do? Take some time every study day to do it!
- Do all the texting, facebooking or chatting with friends that you’ve been wanting to do.
- Sit and daydream about how you’ll feel when exams are over. :)
Careful: Just make sure you actually get back to studying, don’t get carried away on your break!!
Lesson 3: Get Enough Sleep
Look, trust me. I know you’ve heard this a million times and have scoffed it off every time. You don’t have time to sleep, right? You have way too much information to stuff into your brain, right? Wrong. Sleeping is probably one of the very best things you can do to ensure success on your finals.
Here’s Why You Need To Get Shuteye:
- Sleep consolidates your memories (3). If you’re worried about remembering all those facts you just crammed, take a power nap! It’s a fantastic way to make sure they stay put right in your noggin.
- You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to work.
- It works way better than pulling an all nighter! According to one study, if you thoroughly review your notes until you’re tired and then get a full night’s sleep, you’ll achieve the same effect as staying up all night cramming the material (4). And as we already know, it feels totally disgusting to pull an all nighter, not to mention any chance you had of learning new material the next day will be completely shot anyways. So it’s much better to get your sleep.
- It is a perfect way to relax at the end of your day. Give yourself at least an hour before light’s out to spend unwinding. That way you’ll fall asleep much quicker than if you stay up late watching videos or studying.
Here’s How To Do It:
Commit! Make your sleep a priority. After all, it’s the most important thing!
Take Initiative. Is your excuse that your neighbours are too loud? That the frisbee players are on the field until at least eleven and the bright lights stay on outside your window? Friends doing fun things without you? Get earplugs, talk to your floor fellow or call security (if you have it). Close the blinds, get an eye mask or just shut your eyes for goodness sake! Make plans with your friends for the next day, during one of your study breaks. In short, don’t hide behind excuses all the time. You alone are responsible for the outcome of your exams.
Make your bed for sleeping. Try not to study in bed, designate it as a place for sleeping only. Your body should learn that when you get into bed, it’s sleepytime, which will make it easier to fall asleep. Try to make your bed as inviting as possible, whether that be by making it in the morning or spraying some relaxing aromatherapy mist on your sheets. Snuggle up in your pjs and start dreaming.
Conclusion: Your Health is Key
At this time of year, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed, run down and stressed out. Combat this by eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking time to yourself. After all, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Take care of your brain, and it will take care of you!
Good luck on your exams everyone! Keep calm and carry on. Try your very best, that’s all you can ask of yourself.
What do you do around exam season to keep your cool? How do you combat stress and stay focused? I’d love to hear your secrets and tips. :)