Stress-Busting Techniques for the Exam Period

This Christmas period was my first in a long, long time where I haven’t had to do any revision, or stress about a looming deadline. I know, this is not something you want to hear if that experience is still very real for you. However, just because this January has been relatively stress free for me, it doesn’t mean I’ve miraculously forgotten what it’s like.

My degree was mainly coursework based, but there were a couple of exams. Throughout my GCSEs, A levels and undergraduate degree, I managed to establish a routine and develop some rituals which helped me get through the stressful time. I have listed my top tips below…

1) Create a colour-coded time table.

This, I find, is a good place to start. It’s a great way to ease yourself into the thought of revision and what’s more, it means you go in with a clear plan of what to cover when. Look at the dates of your exams and roughly gauge how much time you are going to need per module/topic. Make it clear and easy to follow. Why not use different colours and pictures? That way you will know what needs to be covered each day. Don’t get too stressed if you fall behind though. I found that sometimes, something I thought wouldn’t take that long would take ages and vice versa. You will make up any lost time before you know it. Having a guide should help you to stay on track.

2) Schedule chill-time

As well as planning your revision/course work time, make sure you schedule some time for chilling. Whether that is a trip to the cinema, baking, cooking a nice meal or watching TV, it’s really important to have this time off because it will make you more productive when you do revise. If you plan something fun to do in the evening, it will give you something to look forward to whilst you work hard in the day. You could also arrange a nice lunch with friends to break up the day.

You can also use the online Pomodoro timer (yes, like the tomato sauce). It’s a 25 minute time management tool that allows you to keep track of your study and break time; it aims to maximise your productivity by giving you a break every so often to grab a snack or check Instagram. I didn’t use this because I’ve only just found it. I think it sounds really useful though!

3) Find your best revision space

Having a good place to do your work can really affect performance. Weirdly, I like to work in natural light and be able to see outside. I don’t like being cooped up in a small space as I find I get bored, distracted and more stressed. In my last assessment period, I started going to the library, but it soon became difficult to get a good space. Everyone was getting their early in the morning and reserving seats for their friends, meaning it would be busy all day. I ended up working in my flat kitchen. It had a nice window which allowed me to see across the rooftops of Cardiff. I had tea and snacks on tap and I found this really worked for me. Try and figure out where you work best quite early on, so you can be the most productive.

4) Work with friends

Now this one may or may not work for you. I, personally, found working with my friends and chatting through ideas really useful. Whilst we were doing the same modules, it was interesting to hear what texts they had chosen to write about and what points they were going to cover in their essays. I found it motivating to see them working and it helped me focus. Also, when they are studying the same material as you it can be handy to talk it through together. Maybe they have a good way of remembering something that they could share with you, like an acronym for a complex equation. If you can explain what you’ve learnt to someone else, it will really help it to stick in your head.

For some, working with friends might be counter-productive. Again, try and gauge early on whether this works for you.

5) Meal prep

I don’t know about you, but I found this time of year really expensive. I would use popping out to get a sandwich or a coffee as an excuse for a revision break. But actually, it was just breaking the bank. I soon realised that I needed to bring lunch and drinks with me and just go for a wonder when I felt like I needed a change of scenery.

I also found it really handy to plan a nice meal for the evening. That way I wouldn’t procrastinate in the shop deciding what to have and I could just get on and enjoy cooking when I got home. I found making a meal at the end of the day and really good way to relax. Also, if you’ve tackled a difficult topic or section that day, you can reward yourself with a culinary delight.

6) Don’t be too ahead of the game

A lot of people on my course would read the firsts two texts, stop and then just decide to compare them because they had enough material. My advice would be to not sell yourself short. There is a reason the modules are term-length long; there is so much to learn and discover about different texts or topics. It might be worth putting off the essay planning for a few weeks and seeing what comes up when looking at the other texts or modules.

I also found that having regular meetings with tutors and module leaders was really helpful. I would talk through my essay ideas and find that their comments would help guide me into making better, more focused essay ideas.

7) Don’t be a sheep

There are so many revision methods online and in books, but it’s important to know what works for you. My bestie Georgie found that she was making loads of revision cards because that was what the people around her were doing. She realised that once she started reading and trying to learn the facts rather than merely writing them out on cards, it was a lot more productive. If you are a visual learner, draw pictures and diagrams. If you rely more on listening, record yourself reading the material and playing it back or again, try and explain it to someone else. If you’re not feeling like it’s going in, don’t stress, just experiment and switch up your method.

8) Read the marking criteria

Sounds obvious really doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually know what the exam or coursework requires. Read it, re-read it, annotate it and highlight it. Get to know it inside out because, at the end of the day, that’s what your marker will have next to them when they are looking at your work.

9) Fresh air and exercise

For me, running and exercise was a great way to eleviate stress. When I knew I was struggling to write any more, or I’d reached my word count goal for that day, I’d either go for a run or go to the gym. That way, your day doesn’t become just a revision day and you get the chance to refresh, clear your head and allow what you’ve studied earlier that day to sink in.

Now, obviously I’m not claiming to have all the best advice when it comes to revision and essay writing. But I do get stressed out quite easily, so for me, finding a number of ways to repress the stress was really useful. I hope you find it helpful too…

Estelle xo

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