Fabulous Friday: Five Ways to De-Stress During Exams

For those who have clicked on this because you're avoiding looking at your study material... this is for you :)

It is that time of year again! Final assignments, exams, the pointy end of the semester stick...Your stress levels may be mounting and you realise just how much you missed all semester.  Even if you're all over it, something about exam block clogs pores and leads to internal panic...

It doesn't have to be that way! Here are a five quick tips to get you through the end of semester stress period:

1. Get out and move!

One thing that has a tendency to evaporate during an exam block is people's commitment to exercise.  When you realise you have X amount of hours left before an exam, spending an hour running around doesn't seem like good value...

But it is! Take half an hour out of your morning or evening, go for a run, skip, do random push ups, kick or throw a ball around - that change of scenery and the release of endorphins which will definitely help your mood and give you a burst of motivation for the remainder of the study period.

Dosage: Daily or every two days is recommended.

2. Clear your commitments

Let people know that you won't be readily available for the next little while.

Give people advanced notice if you have commitments that you won't be readily available.  Set up an automatic reply on your email.  Most of your friends are probably in the same boat so they will should understand.  If you can take time off work, it is probably a good idea.

It helps when you can be focused on your study rather than being pulled away by various other commitments, breaking your concentration.  It's all about being in the study zone.  

Dosage: Take a large dosage of commitment clearing at the beginning and it should last a couple of weeks.  Supplement the study zone with a teaspoon of sweet tunes.

3. Get a decent amount of sleep. ESPECIALLY the night before.

Rule of thumb? Try to get at least 7 + hours of sleep the night before the exam. Even if you don't know the content, your brain will work MUCH better with the little that it knows if you are well rested than if you are zombie-walking-sleep-deprived.

When you get to that point in the early hours of the morning where your brain doesn't seem to absorb anything and you've re-read the same line five times...cut your losses and head to bed.  You'll be much more efficient in the morning :)

It's called sharpening the saw.

[box] Stephen Covey tells the story of meeting someone who has been sawing down a tree for more than 5 hours. When you suggest that they take a break and sharpen their saw so the job might go faster they tell you they don't have time to sharpen the saw because they're too busy sawing! (From 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) [/box]

4. Try to eat decent food.

It helps.  It will also reduce guilt down the line.

Recommended study foods for brain and waistband purposes: Fish, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, apples and berries.  Here's a good source.

Oh yeah and dark chocolate...

Essentially, don't live on noodles.  If you must, at least add frozen vegies to make it slightly nutritious.

Dosage: Regular meals are recommended.  Don't forget to keep a water bottle with you at all times! It's all about hydration.  

5. You only need to know 85% of the content for a HD.

You can't learn it all.

One of the best pieces of advice that I was ever given about exams was that even the High Distinction grade isn't 100%.  Why?

Because there is just so much content, you can't realistically be expected to learn and remember it all.

It's actually a freeing concept.  Be strategic in your study.  Will hours spent learning how to manually multiply 4 x 4 matrices actually give you a decent percentage increase on the exam?  Perhaps those four hours are better spent bedding down that other concept that you weren't too sure about...

So learn what you need to and can in the time you are given, but realise that it isn't the end of the world if you don't know every single thing.  It'll be right :)

So study hard, but not too hard.  I can honestly barely remember what I got for most of my subjects, let alone individual exams.  It's not the end of the world (although it may feel like it).  Just do your best...and enjoy ;)

See you at the other end!

Study Secrets to Ace Your Exams (PART 1!)


Engineering was fun, but hell. Balancing a full mechanical engineering load with various other things was never easy…

Fortunately though, I learnt a few tricks along the way that helped.

Here are a few to get you started – tips that may be able to help you study more efficiently and get you through an exam block with your sanity intact.



1. Plan your study period at the BEGINNING of SWOTVAC and put it up on your WALL.


Day 1 of SWOTVAC? By and large, one achieves pretty much nothing.  That’s okay.

USE the first day to FULLY PLAN OUT your exam block. 

This includes:

ONE. Picking your study station for the next three weeks. YOU WILL LIVE THERE. Ideally a quiet place (if that is your thing), with enough space for all your gear and where you can set up uninterrupted for hours on end. Your bed is not a good study station.  Don't mix sleep and study.

TWO. Write down your study schedule (see point two) AND PUT IT ON YOUR WALL.  Split it up PER DAY.

THREE. Print off the tutorials/lectures/whatever else you will need in advance (download that TV series…)

Now at least you are all set for the block and you can feel like you have achieved something. Take the day off. 



2. Plan study for your exams BACKWARDS.


Say you have exams A, B, C and D in that order.  Study for D first, then C, then B, then A.

That way, when you have JUST finished studying A, you will do the exam, rather than study for it first and then forget everything you’ve learnt by the time the exam comes around.  After A, study for B (and if you have time, C)…and so on and so forth.  Put this schedule on your wall (see point 1).

Here’s a little example - you get the first Saturday and Sunday off as a treat ^^:

Exam schedule


3. Work in 30 Minute Blocks and TIME YOURSELF


Sometimes we I have the attention span of a goldfish.  The moment I would sit down to study, I would suddenly remember my desk needs cleaning, emails need replying, dishes need washing… you get the gist.

To make it less daunting to sit down and START (and then actually do something!), aim for 30 minute blocks of UNINTERRUPTED study.

Switch your phone off, close Facebook (use Leechblock if you have to!), shut down your email (and maybe even disconnect the internet?!)…just for half an hour.

It will be hard at first, as your mind won’t be used to concentrating for that long.  After half an hour though, give yourself a break. Leave the desk, talk to someone, walk around…then come back for another half an hour.

By working in short uninterrupted spurts, you are much more efficient at actually learning, and your mind can concentrate a lot better – and possibly for longer.

I like to think also that sometimes information needs to marinate a little (my brain = tender lamb chops) so that I can actually understand it.  By taking breaks, it gives my brain muscle time to marinate and rest. 

Also, it’s gratifying to know that half an hour was PURE STUDY.

You can also use this timer :)



4. Schedule in breaks


Pick a night a week. I always took Friday nights off.

Not only should you give your brain a break every half an hour or so, but you should also have a “break day” every week of your exam block.  Even if it isn’t an entire day but an evening or morning, force yourself to leave your desk and get some fresh air.

Even the week before my thesis was due, I took Friday night off.  I shut my books/computer at 3pm and didn’t look at anything until the next day.  It’s an important part of being healthy; a change of scenery will not only refresh you but motivate you for the next burst.

As the weeks roll on by, don’t be afraid to take a break for a couple of hours a day, to do something different.  Your brain will thank you.

Just try not to have a break too often – and don’t forget to stick to the plan…! :P



5. Give yourself a daily hours study goal and STICK WITH IT!


When I first started timing myself, I realised I would work only 30% of the time I sat at my desk. 


Lord know what I would do – surf the net, read the news, watch series (every exam block would be a new series…).

The best cure? Giving myself a goal of the number of hours that day I wanted to study (PURE ACTUAL STUDY) and sticking with it.

When I started this, I realised I was sitting at my desk all day and doing only about 3 hours.  By the end of fourth year though, an average study day was probably 5 – 6 hours.

A really good day? 8 hours.

Thesis due next week? 10.

Once my daily goal was done, I was off the hook for the rest of the day (a good incentive to get the hours out early…).

But remember, you can’t cheat! Time the number of hours that you actually study for.  If you pick up the phone? STOP THE CLOCK. Open Facebook? STOP THE CLOCK. 

It’s a brutally honest way of showing yourself how much time you actually study and once you have a baseline you can work from there.  Don’t get disenchanted, just keep working at it.


Part 2 of Study Secrets will be out at some point in the future! Stay tuned…but in the meantime please share – what are your tips to get you through your exam blocks?