Updated: Jul 24, 2020
A small series of ideas I've collected over the years for minimising your stress and maximising your effectiveness during exam period.
1) The Night Before
You're already as prepared as you possibly can be for the exam—use that fact to your advantage!
Do not work past 8pm (maximum) on the night before a morning exam. If you work beyond that hour I can guarantee that you will have equations, formulae and all sorts of facts whizzing through your head until the early hours of dawn. Your brain needs time to cool down before it sleeps.
Note: Students who are ill-prepared may feel the need to pull the infamous 'all-nighter'. That's their choice—if you want to do well, avoid being one of them! Consistent work across the year is the the key to this. If you've had three school-terms to prepare yourself and you still feel like you desperately need to study the night before an exam, the truth is you might not have worked hard enough during the year. Learn from this mistake in the future.
The 'all-night-heroes' are invariably those that wonder why their results 'weren't as good as they expected'. The answer is simple: Not enough sleep. A good night's sleep is so important I have a whole article about the benefits of it here; but next I will discuss is to how to get a good one...
2) Getting to sleep
Here are some tips and ideas to help you get a good night's sleep before the exam:
You don't need to be a master of the lotus position, just stretch yourself out a little (I recommend Adrienne's YouTube yoga videos). Doing this will feel make you feel far more relaxed and ready to sleep.
Extreme physical exercise.
This was always a key element of my study routine, exhausting my body as well as my mind. Afterwards, I'd flop out like a light. The fresh air goes a long way towards easing that anxiety too!
Watch a cartoon/series.
You're most probably set on getting to sleep ASAP, but it is very much worthwhile putting aside an hour to enjoy a very simple, chilled-out activity. The ideal, in my humble opinion, is to read a great piece of fiction. However, I'm aware that the 21st century has brought about a reading-epidemic and so let's just say a series on Netflix will suffice (or anything that will calm down your mind a little).
Youtube meditation videos.
Yes, it may sound a little ridiculous, but they are well worth a try if you're having trouble sleeping.
Isotonic sports drinks
Good for keeping you dehydrated whilst you sleep, without the negative effect of needing the bathroom—Biology students think Osmosis!
Nothing revolutionary here. If I didn't tell you, your parents would! The best herbal tea that there is for before bedtime.
Don't work until too late
Oh wait! Did I mention that already? Must be important!
This one is much easier said than done ,so here are a few words of encouragement to help you with it: It's all in there, I promise! You're not going to magically forget everything you've learnt all year overnight! If you're worried that you might, check out the 'one-hour flick through' tip below to help with this irrational worry!
Now, breathe deeply and let that soft pillow take you off to dream-land! zzzzzz
3) Before the exam
The one-hour flick through.
Even if it's an early morning exam, allow for a final one-hour flick through of your notes.
This is as important for peace of mind as it is anything else. It will help you get a better night's sleep as it stops you worrying that you'll forget it all over night. I have always felt far more relaxed (and slept far better) knowing I have my 'one-hour flick through' scheduled on the morning before an exam.
Careless-error flick through
If you haven't read about careless error sheets, read about them here.
This sheet is always the last thing I flick through before an exam, typically looking at it some time in the final hour before I go in.
Breathe and relax for half an hour
Granted, sometimes there are exams in which you need to memorise a lot of futile information just before so you can note it down as soon as you go in (think flame tests in chemistry!). I'm not against this as a method in very specific cases.
However, where possible, it's far better if you can commit everything to your long-term memory so as to allow a comfortable 30-minute breathing space before the exam. This will clear your head, calm your mental state, and top up your energy, preparing you to nail that exam!
Eat a banana or some dried fruits or any equivalent quick-release energy food so as to have that extra boost of energy and concentration in the exam.
Isotonic Sports Drink
Isotonic sports drinks are perfect for maximum hydration (without the added necessity of going to the bathroom regularly).
Do NOT confuse these with energy drinks. Indeed, I would advise against caffeine before an exam. Sure, it might boost your energy momentarily, but it can lead you into an anxious state in which you make rash decisions too—and, of course, you never know when that crash could come!
Ok, you're ready to go and nail your exams! Best of luck!