Exam Time can be one of the most traumatic experiences in our life and can leave a scar on our consciousness. Remember that nightmare when you’ve got an exam in the morning and forgot to study. I still get chills thinking about it.
Here are my top 10 tips for exam performance. I wish someone had shown me how to prepare myself in body, heart and mind for the best performance on the day.
Since joining the Resilience Institute last year and working with businesses everyday, I’m constantly asked for advice from participants/parents to help their kids and themselves have fewer sleepless nights. Here they are:
- Manage your sleep. Aim for 8 or 9 hours and don’t study late in the night. The brain needs time to recharge and rejuvenate. Deep sleep during the early part of the night (10 pm to 2am) is essential. Allow the body to cool down and relax before sleep. Switch off the devices at least an hour before bed time. No phone, TV or computer in the bedroom. Ever!
- Exercise every day. Try building up a sweat with vigorous exercise like skipping or a short sprint at top speed. Stand up regularly while studying. Do some fun stretches or balancing exercises. A brain-stimulating balancing exercise is to stand on one leg for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. Then try the other side. This engages both sides of the brain. Google Sun salutation and try it out. A 20 minute brisk walk is also beneficial.
- Short bursts of study. Break your study into intense, focused bursts. Find the optimal time for your bursts (may be 20 to 60 minutes). Set specific goals and do plenty of old exam papers. Exams are the application of knowledge so practice this. Keep it challenging. Reward yourself in short breaks of 10 minutes between bursts.
- Eat well and resist junk food. Processed carbohydrates, sweets and carbonated drinks will fire up your energy and then dump you. You need sustained mental energy for optimal exam performance. Seek nuts, eggs, and whole fat dairy for protein. Veggies give you sustainable energy and protect your brain. Blueberries, beetroot and fish are serious brain food. Healthy and useful fats include avocado, olive oil and nuts. Coffee is a safe stimulant during the morning. Stick to water in the afternoon. Eat lightly in the evening.
- Plan your study week. Set specific goals. Test yourself with harder questions. Compete with a buddy and review together.
- Take regular breaks. Don’t be distracted by devices. Take quality rest – good food, activity, play, and sunshine. Regular breaks build your capacity to focus. The average person can only focus for 3 to 5 minutes and it gets worse through the day. Work at extending your periods of intense focus. Good posture helps.
- Practice your breathing. Sitting with a light and long spine, exhale completely and then slowly fill your lower ribs and upper belly. Repeat slowly. Aim for 4 seconds of inhalation and 6 seconds of exhalation. Breathe through the nose.You have just triggered tactical calm. Your body is more relaxed, your energy will return and your focus has improved. You can use this slow diaphragmatic breathing to improve exam performance, get to sleep quickly or to sustain your mental focus.
- Be Present. It is really easy to find yourself worrying about a future exam or beating yourself up for a past exam. Worry and regret have no value. PAY ATTENTION (by focusing on your breath) and save the day. Know that the solution will come from being relaxed alertness. Never panic!
- Read the instructions. Carefully review the requirement section first. Then read the body of the question. Check the requirements again. Subconsciously your brain will be working on a plan and you will avoid silly errors.
- Apply the “80/20 rule”. Having helped many students through exams in different topics; there is one universal rule to remember – the 80/20 rule – focus on what counts. Allocate the appropriate time to each question. Do your favourite topic first. When the time for a question is up, move on to the next question. Leave plenty of space in case you have time at the end to review and improve. Believe it or not you will already have achieved at least 80% of the marks you are going to get from that question. Don’t sweat over the other 20% and trying to collect every last mark.
Good luck with your exam performance and remember the better you plan, the luckier you will be.