Exam season can be stressful – mountains of revision, deadlines closing in and the ticking clock in the exam hall, counting down the seconds. You might feel obliged to get a certain grade or meet expectations. It can feel like you’re under a lot of pressure from many different people, including yourself. Some dread the long hours of revision leading up to exams but are relieved when it's over. Others can’t stop worrying about the answer to question 7 - or was it question 6? as the invigilator marches away with their paper...
Whilst getting good grades is important, you also have to be kind to yourself.
It's all too easy to forget this and get caught up with the stress and anxiety exam season can bring. Below I’ve listed some techniques I use to keep myself level headed and calm as I do my mock exams.
1. Set time aside for yourself.
I find that between revision, school and taking exams I get tired more easily and need time alone to rest and recharge. It’s important to make time for relaxation as it improves brain function and helps you to look after your mental health. Overworking yourself can be really harmful and knowing when to rest is a crucial part of revision that helps you perform at your best. With that being said, knowing when to put your foot down and get back to work is something you’ll need to acknowledge too. It's all about getting the balance right.
Personally, I enjoy going for a walk in between revision sessions or hanging out with my friends on the weekend. Because I know my mum likes to eat dinner as a family, I make sure I take a break around that time. There are lots of different ways people unwind so it's about finding what works for you - whether that be taking a bubble bath or going for a hike.
2. Create a (realistic) revision timetable
Monday – chemistry, maths, English, more maths, more English... Plan? Study for hours on end…
This seems painfully tedious, right? Yet revision tends to feel like this, especially when we haven’t designed an effective timetable. There are only so many hours in a day so when creating a revision timetable it's crucial to think about how much revision you can actually do without draining yourself. In other words, know your limits. Often, the revision timetables we create for ourselves are unrealistic: they’re jam packed with hours of intense revision, have few breaks and cover an unreasonable amount of topics. Sticking to a revision schedule that’s too demanding will take a toll on you and may lead to procrastination.
Make sure you pencil in time for other commitments you have, plenty of breaks and time spent with friends or family. A revision timetable shouldn’t feel restrictive or unachievable so making it flexible is key. Keep your general revision timetable simple and easy to follow as it will help to keep you motivated. The more achievable it is the better you’ll feel and the more prepared for your exams you’ll be.
Now take a look at this improved revision timetable:
It’s a lot better right? Remember the whole day isn’t dedicated to revision – while those can be useful, taking breaks should always be included - even robots need to recharge.
Doesn’t it feel good to take a breather?
I mentioned taking breaks earlier but sometimes that’s not quite enough to help you switch off. Practising meditation and mindfulness can really help with this. Apps such as headspace are perfect for guided meditation, especially when you’re short on time. They offer quick mindfulness sessions that are just 3, 5 or 10 minutes long - perfect for ending your break or having a reset. If you prefer to do things yourself you may be interested in looking into some breathing techniques. I find box breathing always helps me feel better. You inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and then hold for 4 and repeat.
When you’re feeling particularly stressed or worried you can try these techniques out and they will help you feel calmer. If you feel panicked during an exam you could even try them out then!
I hope this blog post helped remind you that it's normal to feel stressed and that there are ways to cope with exam pressure.
Tiffany Igharoro is a student in Y11 preparing to take her GCSE's next year. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She is studying art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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