I never cram, stay late in the library or forgo self-care to get good marks but I got straight As and I do well at University. I have always been highly motivated and good at balancing my time; studying has never been an issue for me. However, seeing how stressed out my friends are prompted me to explain how I study. In addition, since I have struggled with depression and anxiety, my health is always my first concern and I won’t ever risk that. Although, I study a fraction of the time my friends do, I still get good marks whilst keeping calm. In an effort to reduce the stress experienced by students at exam time, I’m sharing how I study.
Why are you studying? What do you aim to get out of studying? Ask yourself this.
In high school, an older girl did a presentation in which she explained she got all As in her exams and I immediately decided I wanted to do that too. If she could do it then I could. So whilst I studied, I kept the thought of how I wanted straight As at the back of my mind to keep me determined to work hard and I did it. I got my straight As in National 5 and Higher and I contribute that to having it set as my goal. Whenever I got tests in school, I strived for making the A grade. You need to have a goal to work towards; something to keep you focused. Your goal may be to get certain grades to be able to get your dream job or to make your family proud, but whatever the rationale doesn’t matter as long as it’s there.
Study smarter not longer
When I was studying for my National 5 exams I studied 3 hours a week per subject. When I was studying for my Highers I studied 5 hours a week per subject. I scheduled my time so allow me to fit this studying in whilst having two free days off a week from studying. If I had a test or an imminent exam I would study more but otherwise, I stuck to this timetable. I would start studying at 4pm and finish at either 7 or 8pm, which left me with ample free time whilst being productive. Nowadays, at University my timetable is irregular so I fit in studying wherever I can but I never study till crazy hours. Making a time-table is a necessity, otherwise you will feel unorganised and you won’t be sure of how much progress you are making. Furthermore, make a list with everything you want covered before your exam and divide that up into your daily to-do lists – the organisation will make everything feel less chaotic.
During study leave, I can study from 9am to 7 or 8pm at night but I don’t study beyond then. You lose concentration if you continuously study and it’s not healthy to do so. I have many breaks throughout the day and then relax at night. I prefer quality studying over quantity. I study a lot less than some of my friends but when I study I really focus – no music, no distractions – and I am motivated to do so because I know that I will have the night off after I’m done. And as a consequence, I am a lot more relaxed throughout this stressful time and I will always prioritise my health over everything else.
Everyone gets a little nervous on exam day, some people more than others. I get very anxious because I hate the loss of control associated with being in an exam hall unable to leave. Some of my friends who never struggle with anxiety, freak out every exam day and become overwhelmed with nerves. To combat that, I don’t study on the day of the exam, except from reading over my notes because I don’t want to get overwhelmed. If you are properly prepared you shouldn’t need to cram right before an exam. Before the exam, I take time to dress nicely and do my make up because taking time for yourself is calming. When I get to the exam, I chat with my friends about anything but the exam. Seeing your friends helps your nerves disintegrate and it will distract you from your nerves. And when you finally sit down with your exam paper, don’t stress or rush and trust that you are able to pass this exam. The worst case scenario for an exam is that you have to resit it but if you consider this, it isn’t that bad at all. Resitting an exam is far from ideal, however, it is hardly the end of the world so you shouldn’t ascribe so much importance to that possibility.
While some people are last-minute studying, I am always sleeping. Sleeping is essential for your brain to consolidate the information you have learnt throughout the day, therefore making it an important component of studying. If you turn up to an exam with exhaustion on top of nerves your performance won’t be at its best. Look after yourself and ensure you get a full sleep, especially before an exam. Sleep deprivation can have some serious consequences and you want to stay in good shape for exams.
Relax in the Chaos
When times get stressful you need to amp up the self-care to stay mentally healthy, however, a lot of people replace time to themselves with more studying. You can’t study all the time and you don’t need to. If you are studying effectively you shouldn’t need to be continually revising. I take a full night off every week, not only is it necessary to keep myself feeling sane, but it also gives me something to look forward to. Going out with your friends after a day of studying will brighten up your monotonous study timetable and there will seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. You need to chill out so your stress doesn’t accumulate and overwhelm you.
If exams really stress you out then there are ways you can help yourself. Relaxation techniques may seem trivial but they do work. Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and I recommend guided mediations for beginners (Boho Beautiful’s YouTube channel has amazing meditations. In addition, if the prospect of the exam hall stresses you out like it does for me, then you can arrange to sit your exams in the special needs base of your institution. It is very common for those with anxiety to sit their exams there. Or if your nerves are exacerbated by exams, but still present throughout the year, then it may be a good idea to receive Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT). I am a huge advocate of CBT, it is a natural and very effective way of defeating anxiety. It is actually the first step in treatment for anxiety, but due to the cost and the waiting list on the NHS, it is often skipped out.
At the end of exam season, you need to feel proud of the hard work you have put in. You need to celebrate and treat yourself. Take some time off from working hard and enjoy yourself… before you need to do it all over again.
These things really work for me and I hope that you give them a try. Exams can cause a dangerous amount of stress for young people, so it is important that you try and keep on top of it. Your health is so much more important than your grades and if you manage to study effectively you won’t have to compromise either. The secret to getting ahead is getting started.