Preparing for April Exams

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Spring is in the air (for the most part!) The end of the session and final exams are around the corner. This can be a turbulent time and first and foremost, I want to wish you all the very best as you head into the trenches!

While there may be no way around feeling the pressure right now, I wanted to share a few strategies to help ease any exam and end-of-session-related stress. (I use the term “exam” for simplicity’s sake, but these strategies can be applied regardless of what is on your end-of-session plate)

Before an Exam

  • Time management: Write down and prioritize your tasks in order of importance - must do, should do, want to do. Determine what is most urgent/time sensitive and what can be put aside until later, or even after exams/end-of-session. Estimate how much time is needed for each task – it’s always best to overestimate, you might even end up with a few spare moments using this technique! Doing this on a weekly basis can help you to feel more in control of your workload and ensure that nothing gets missed. Then, divide your days into blocks of time and plug in the tasks. Try to work (or at least tackle the tougher tasks) when you feel most productive and alert, and don’t forget to schedule in meals, breaks and a good night’s sleep.
  • Nutrition: While a nourishing diet is essential to optimal functioning, it’s also understandable that more efficient nutritional options will be prioritized in busier times. At the very least, stay hydrated and bring nutritious snacks with you so that you maintain your energy levels throughout the day and are less likely to buy something on the go (which is more often than not, more expensive and processed). Apps like Supercook and Cookspiration can also help you prepare meals with ingredients you already have at home.
  • Sleep: It may be tempting to sacrifice a few hours of sleep during the end-of-session hustle, but this can have adverse effects. Lack of sleep is associated with higher levels of anxiety and stress, as well as other health problems. Additionally, a sleep-deprived person struggles to focus. Sleep itself plays an important role in memory consolidation, which is essential for learning and retaining information. So, don’t feel bad for making sleep a priority! Visualize writing an exam: If you have the time, check out this 15-minute recording which guides you through the process of studying for and writing an exam. Visualizing success promotes increased memory, concentration, and success.

This year, the religious celebration of Ramadan, which involves fasting from sunrise to sunset, coincides with exam time. For many who observe this celebration, we recognize that this shift in routine can impact energy levels and performance. Here are some helpful tips (adapted from this article) to help you get organized during this time:

  • Eat healthy, energizing foods during Suhoor to help sustain you throughout the day.
  • Shower as a way to wake yourself up and clean yourself before prayer.
  • Allow for additional breaks when needed (and if possible, an afternoon nap).
  • Try and do the bulk of your revision before fasting starts.
  • Switch the topic you are studying every hour or so as fasting can make it difficult to concentrate on one subject for too long.
  • If you find your mind wandering or that you’re getting sleepy, go outside and get some fresh air.
  • If you are having difficulties, communicate with your instructor that you are observing Ramadan and be specific about what support you are asking for.

During an Exam

It is normal to feel a surge of stress/anxiety before and/or during a test; this response can actually be useful as it helps to prepare you to deal effectively with the situation, ensuring you are alert and ready. If you feel that it’s interfering with your performance, however, here are a few things you can do in the moment:

  • Breathing exercises: Take a few calming breaths to help you regain focus and concentration. Breathe in through the nose for four slow counts, hold your breath for two seconds, then breathe out through the mouth for six slow counts. Do this until you feel your body feels calm enough to move on.
  • 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding practice: This exercise can help you to regain focus on the present situation and involves purposefully taking in the details of your surroundings, using each of your senses. Strive to notice the following: five things you can see; four things you can feel; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; and one thing you can taste. This should be followed by one slow, deep breath.

After an Exam

Let out a long, soothing exhale! Okay, time to give yourself a break. Here are some suggestions:

  • Self-compassion: Some folks may feel particularly hard on themselves coming out of an exam, depending on how they think they performed. Negative self-talk can increase stress and anxiety and affect your mood. Be supportive of yourself like you would be with a good friend. Challenge any negative self-talk with more useful thoughts (e.g., “That was tough, but I studied hard and think I did okay and will still pass the class.”) See my article from February 2023 for more on self-compassion.
  • Taking care of yourself: Were there any areas of your life that were particularly neglected that might now need some extra attention? Psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, professional, or social areas? Now is the time to come back to your self-care strategies and bring back those things you enjoy – whether it’s exercise, connecting with family and friends, engaging in activities for fun, or scheduling that dentist’s appointment you’ve been putting off!
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