The exam period is creeping up on us and many students will go into intense learning mode, they spend countless hours revising, forget to eat regularly and get little sleep.
Unfortunately, that will only make them stressed, lose energy and by exam day they will be exhausted and very grumpy, not to mention performing under those conditions is much harder.
The best thing to do is to recognise the time is very near and start preparing yourself to adapt your daily habits to the new demands in advance. Here are 10 tips on how to stay focused, maximise your learning potential and perform at your best on exam day.
1. Set up your schedule
Take a few hours out on a day before exam period hits you to work out a schedule: revising sessions, exam days and times, activities you will keep attending, other commitments you already agreed to, etc. Allow yourself some slack for emergencies, recovery and play time too.
2. Sleep smart
Your brain organises information while you’re asleep and ensures you can recall it later, it also makes sure your body heals and recovers during those hours. Get around 7-8 hours of sleep each night to ensure all that hard-earned knowledge stays with you and is available when needed.
3. Work smart
Figure out what learning process is the most beneficial for you and ensure you create the perfect conditions for studying. Ensure your phone is on mute, your family doesn’t disturb and you only have the study material around you to stay focused and free from disruptions. Get up and leave the room when taking a break, you can do press-ups or have a quick snack.
4. Eat regularly, eat breakfast like a king
Ensure you eat something every few hours to keep your glucose levels in check, that will help you stay balanced on energy and can give your day a structure. Eat 3-6 meals and snacks a day.
If you plan and prepare in advance, you can cook up one or two extra portions of the same meal for the freezer, so on a day when you have are short on time, you can still have a full meal within minutes.
Breakfast being the most important meal of the day is a cliché, but when you want your brain to function at its best, setting the foundations early in the morning is essential. Your brain uses up to 20% of all the energy from your daily food intake and by the morning it had been without any fuel for several hours. Don’t wait until you crash mid-morning, prevent that with having a nutritious breakfast every day without fail.
5. Prioritise variety in your diet
Time is precious when preparing for exams and it’s easy to eat the same foods repeatedly for convenience. Aim to choose different meals consciously and pick quick but healthy options instead of fast food.
Examples: wholemeal cereal low in added sugar with milk and orange juice, scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast with vegetables, chicken or tuna salad wrap, stir fry with prawns, turkey or chicken.
6. Fill up on brain-boosting foods
Oats and eggs are a great source of energy, especially in the morning, the latter is also thought to aid cognitive performance and memory function. Including omega-3 fatty acids to your evening meal is believed to help with brain function, oily fish like salmon is perfect, or consider chia and flaxseed as an addition to your salad.
Snack on dried fruits and berries for C vitamin, whilst pumpkin seed and nuts are great to boost your E vitamin and zinc intake that are also thought to have a positive impact on brain activity.
7. Avoid “brain-blocking” foods and drinks.
Stay away from foods that contain refined flour and sugar like cookies, cakes, muffins and confectionary as having these will result in feeling like you are on an energy rollercoaster.
Reduce alcohol to the minimum and avoid it completely on exam days. Staying away from it will keep your head clear and focus sharp.
Avoid sugary drinks and reduce caffeine intake as these can make you feel nervous. However, if coffee is an important part of your day, exam times are not ideal for quitting as you may experience withdrawal headaches, just keep it to the minimum.
8. Stay in your nutritional comfort zone
The week leading up to an exam, or the day itself are not the best to try out new food, new restaurants or new supplements. If your body is not used to it, you don’t know what effect that meal would have so it’s safe to stick to food you know your body tolerates well.
9. Stay hydrated
Water is the best fluid you can have. Proper hydration can prevent fainting, dry eyes, mood swings and headaches. If you get bored easily with it, consider flavouring with mint leaves, cucumber, lemon, lime or even strawberry. Don’t wait till you’re thirsty, drink a glass of water regularly, starting immediately after you wake up.
10. Don’t neglect your physical needs
It's easy to sink into study mode and skip exercising, however, that will only make you stressed and frustrated. Allow time for keeping up with your physical fitness, it will help let the steam out and ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Stick to the sessions you enjoy the most and incorporate moderate cardio too.