It’s that time again – the culmination of a semester’s worth of hard work. You’ve made it through 12 weeks of lectures, tutorials, assignments and deadlines and now, face the final hurdle of the semester – exam week.
You might find your thoughts circling back to the worries and what ifs: what if I haven’t studied enough? What if my parents don’t approve of my mark? What if I fail?
Don’t fear, we’ve enlisted the help of Vicki De Prazer, Senior Clinical Psychologist at the University of Canberra, for expert advice on dealing with the stress and anxiety of upcoming exams.
No matter which stage of exam week you’re at, here’s our guide to making it work.
Revision, revision, revision
Of course, now is the time to revise! Review your notes, course content and unit outline. Identify any gaps in your knowledge. Make a realistic revision schedule and break it down into manageable chunks. Vicki notes the importance of including regular breaks in your revision timetable.
“While study might be your priority in those last few days, it’s important to make sure you’re looking after your mental and physical wellbeing,” Vicki says.
“Timetable your study so that you’ve also got some time to have a break, maybe go for a walk or do some exercise, catch up with a friend.”
Another helpful tip to ensure you’re maximising the quality of your study time, is to try a study method that requires active recall, and truly tests your understanding of course concepts.
“Instead of just copying notes from a textbook, talk out the concepts as if you’re explaining it to someone else and record it on your phone,” Vicki suggests.
“You can play that back, perhaps when you go outside or have a cup of tea.”
Get enough sleep
It goes without saying that getting the right amount and quality of sleep is extremely important to study. Sleep impacts your brain’s ability to concentrate, recall and retain information and even your ability to handle emotions.
“When you’ve only got a week left, you do have to maximise your time, but that doesn’t mean you need to be studying 24/7 – it means keeping your mind and body in the best place that they can be,” Vicki says.
In the days before your exam, make rest a priority. Try to go to bed at a reasonable time, and avoid studying in your bed, as this can affect how easy it is to fall asleep.
Your brain takes up around 20 per cent of your energy needs, so it’s important to nourish it well.
“Pizza every night is unfortunately not going to help your brain or your energy!” Vicki says.
“Eat regularly, and if you can, high quality foods.”
With the stress of impending deadlines, it can be tempting to choose fast food, or skip a meal entirely.
Instead, consider how you can incorporate protein and complex carbohydrates, snacking on nuts, dried fruit, a tiny bit of dark chocolate, not too much coffee, and having plenty of water between meals. This will keep you going while studying!
Minimise digital distractions
It can be incredibly taxing on your brain to manage the constant distractions presented by your phone and that’s not your fault – social media is designed to keep us scrolling.
“The biggest thing is managing your phone use. People really get drawn into that rabbit hole of digital distractions,” Vicki says.
If your phone is in your line of vision or within reach, it might cause a distraction. If possible, set it to silent, leave it in another room and use a clock to time your study.
Many phones have daily usage timers. In the days before your exam, set these to one hour a day so you’re not tempted to scroll during study time.
Enlist support to help you through
Studying can feel stressful and isolating. Although you might feel alone, there are thousands of UC students taking exams this week!
Chat to your classmates, share your worries and support one another. Some positive social connection, a laugh and some reassurance that everybody’s in the same boat, can make a world of difference.
You don’t have to deal with negative feelings alone.
“It’s also not too late to reach out to someone in Medical and Counselling,” Vicki says.
“Even a few days before your exam, a psychologist can teach you a quick relaxation technique for that week that you can then take into that exam, or so that you can have a good sleep the night before the exam.”
The UC Wellbeing Team can also help if you need extra support during this time.
... When it’s over
So, exams are over. You arrived on time, managed to find the building and did your best. Avoid catastrophising over your results and instead, start taking care of yourself. Catch up on rest and connect with friends and family. No doubt, this is the part you know how to do best!
This is also an excellent time to reflect on how your exam prep went: what worked well, what didn’t, and how you can improve your study habits in future. Try a bit of self-reflection to determine your study and learning style and if you haven’t already, check out the resources at study support at UC, to help you make the most of your next semester.
Words by Kelly White. Photos: Tyler Cherry and sourced.