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Exam Season Strategies to Maintain Your Mental Health

With the first semester of the school year coming to a close, there’s one final obstacle that remains, separating you from a peaceful holiday respite with family or friends: the dreaded exam season.

Depending on your major, you might find yourself facing a series of multiple-choice exams or a number of essays with daunting word count requirements.

Don’t fear: if this is your first pass through the gauntlet, know that with a bit of hard work and organization, you’ll emerge victorious. If it’s not your first, even more reason to be rest assured: you’ve conquered the syllabi before and can do so again.

It’s no secret that exam season can be overwhelming for students, including those that haven’t reached post-secondary education yet. Many schools have begun adopting approaches to planning increased mental health service availability based on their arrival. Take advantage of these resources if you need them – they’ll help make sure that you get through your exams and be stronger for it. Here are some other tips and tricks that’ll make sure you can head into your post-exam holiday with some swagger in your step:

Healthy Body = Healthy Mind

In the quest to conquer our exams, we sometimes take a single-minded approach to studying and neglect the thing that matters most: our health. Late-night cram sessions, fueled by Red Bull and Snickers Bars isn’t a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for sleeping in past your exam time with a stomach ache, to boot.

Structure your exam studying schedule so that it accommodates meal times and short breaks for a workout.  Consider getting even a bit of exercise right before the exam: a study has shown that 20 minutes of activity beforehand can boost test scores. Similarly, there’s a link between food quality and student test scores. So trade in that chocolate bar for some baby carrots. Your body will thank you and your mind will too.

Don’t Go it Alone: Get a Study Buddy

When exams are upon us, it’s easy to transition into a survival mode where we’re so focused on getting ourselves through this that we forget that there are dozens of others in our classes in the same spot as us. There’s strength (and smarts) in numbers: recruit a classmate or organize/find a study group to boost your chances of acing the test.

Some of the benefits: you both can motivate the other to stay on top of studying, you can divide and conquer different parts of the course materials and teach it to each other, they can more objectively judge whether your answer is right or wrong and you can rely on each other to make sure you don’t miss the exam! Not to mention, the isolation of studying alone can be stressful. With a study buddy, you’ve got a partner to fight the loneliness and perhaps, a new friend.

Find Your Zen Place

You know that person that claims they’re constantly studying but when you find them at the library, they’re either on Facebook or chatting away to someone across from them? That’s not a model that you want to emulate. When it comes to studying, channel your Zen focus by finding a good place to study, ignoring distractions and avoiding multitasking. In a study from the University of Connecticut, students that multitasked while doing homework ultimately did their work for longer and achieved lower grades.

Responding to a new notification on your phone might seem harmless but distractions can really hurt your studying regime. Once distracted, on average, your brain needs 25 minutes to get back to the task at hand.

Your best bet is to put your phone on silent, find a quiet place to study and if you lack the discipline to police yourself, consider installing an app to block you from browsing the web while in study mode.

All Work and No Play is No Fun

From the immortal words of Park and Recreation’s Donna, its important to “treat yo self”. In this case, treating yourself doesn’t necessarily mean rampant consumerism but instead, giving yourself permission to take a break and enjoy yourself, whether that’s going out with friends, playing a video game, watching a movie or taking a nap. According to the Atlantic, the optimal formula for productivity is 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes for break. Obviously, not all activities can be accomplished in 17 minutes but budget your time responsibly and you’ll achieve a good study/life balance.

Try also saving your social media consumption for your breaks – it’ll help you keep your Zen-mind for studying and you’ll feel better with that many more notifications to respond to.

Your Mental Health is More Important than the Exam

We’ve saved the most important tip for last: never think that this exam matters more than your wellbeing. It’s tragic that suicides tend to spike in exam periods and good, young lives are lost to the stress of questions on a paper. Yes, they can determine your academic success but they’re by no means definitive or final. You can always retake a class, seek an exemption or work with your school’s mental health services to find an accommodation. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone, whether that’s your professor, classmate or mental health service provider and develop a plan to take control of your mental health.

 


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