Coping with Exam Stress
Posted on April 1st, 2017
Those of you who follow me closely on instagram will know that I work part time as a tutor. I couldn’t wait to throw in the colouring pencils when I graduated from uni last summer, but it seems Geography is my calling after all. Plus, having spent the majority of my childhood teaching teddy bears in my game of schools, it’s great to have real life pupils. Mentoring is also a huge part of the job. Of course I need to prepare my students primarily for their public exams but their overall wellbeing is central to this approach.
This approach is so crucially important to me based on my own personal experiences. At 16 and about to sit my GCSE’s I was a total mess! My eating disorder was at its peak and I think I was revising up to 11 hours a day. I’d have melt downs whereby I couldn’t sleep, I’d feel guilty about watching half an hour of TV, and the night before my maths paper I threw my calculator at the floor with so much frustration it shattered, resulting in tears of epic proportion.
I’m not proud of my inability to cope with the pressures of exams in the past, but I do know that it’s not conducive to performing your best. Yet whilst that is all fine and dandy exams are bloody stressful, especially when the next few years of life potentially rest on them. So this week I wanted to share with you some of my top tips for getting through this looming exam season and hopefully put things into perspective.
Revise but don’t over do it!
I still struggle to follow my own advice on this sometimes. I am a self confessed workaholic and although I’m improving, schoolwork and exams get me. I too will be taking an exam in June for my naturopathic nutrition course and even the prospect of returning to uni in September for my master is a little daunting. That said, letting your revision become totally all encompassing isn’t the smartest idea. Over do it and you’ll end up likely working yourself into a total frenzy. Set time aside in the evening to just unwind watch tv and let your body and your mind relax.
Live a little
For some reason during exam times I tend to think I can’t spend time doing anything fun. It took me a while to realise that exams were hard enough without punishing myself or avoiding any social contact. Whether it’s sport, having a drink with a friend or simply going out for dinner it’s ok to enjoy yourself. It will definitely keep you motivated.
Nutrition is extremely important when it comes to exams. Your brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen and glucose at rest so when you’re slaving away remembering facts and figures it’s going into overdrive. Ever wondered why you get so hungry when revising? I’m not a qualified nutritionist yet, but common sense is key. Fuel yourself with balanced meals including protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. Take time in the evening to cook yourself nourishing meals and spend time eating mindfully rather than shovelling it down whilst you race through your note cards. Similarly, I tend to snack more when I’m revising too so it’s good to opt for things that are actually going to energise and sustain you. Some of my go to’s were an apple and a handful of nuts, oatcakes with hummus or a banana with pb and cacao nibs. That said, sometimes you just need a real treat to push you through the final slog so whether that’s chocolate, or in my case a spelt scone from Peter’s Yard (Edinburgh students I couldn’t recommend this enough) – go for it!
Take time for you
The night before an exam I usually sleep terribly. I’m shaky, sweaty, hyped up, on edge – the cocktail of cortisol and adrenalin racing through my veins. When I open my exam paper, it usually takes about 10 minutes for my hand to stop shaking and I’ve always wondered how on earth the marker can read my illegible writing. Again, none of this is helpful or necessary. Apologies for stating the outright obvious here but you really have to focus on taking deep breaths and not getting carried away with the what’s the worst thing that could happens? The night before, I recommend switching off completely – hot bath, deep breaths, a gentle stretch, early night. Mindfulness wasn’t really a thing when I was at school, but I totally see how it could be beneficial! Whatever it is, take time for you.
Remember that everything happens for a reason
Fundamentally, when you come out of that exam whether you’ve smashed it or not the world will still be spinning. Your friends and family and still going to love you and it’s not going to be the be all and end all. Everything in life happens for a reason, so even if you don’t feel like it went as well as you hoped, I promise you that it’s all going to work out alright in the end. On the morning of my A level results I missed my uni offer, which after months of hard work was incredibly demoralizing. But this hasn’t once stopped me from doing the things I’ve wanted to do. I went to an academic school where we were told our lives rested on our exams, but having been through the rollercoaster, life is what you make it, not your ability to get an A* in Maths. Push yourself and do your best but your best is all you can do. Stay calm and Good Luck!