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10 Simple Tips to Get You Through Exams

Whether you are sitting the Junior Cert, Leaving Cert, GSCEs, A levels… you need to treat these exams like a marathon, not a sprint, and prepare for them both mentally and physically, in order to ensure exam success. I have always been an advocate for positive mental health and wellbeing, and during the Leaving Certificate (end-of-school exams in Ireland), I have to admit, my mental health really suffered, and from these experiences, I have really learned how best to face exams, and what I need to do to ensure that I have mental and physical energy to last right up until the very last exam. Also, I feel your pain, and believe in you!! Read my simple tips below during your study break, and hopefully you can benefit from at least one of them.


1. Breaks between exams and study breaks. Whether this means you get a few minutes break or whether it is a day between – make sure you give your brain time to recover- do not launch straight into the next set of notes after an exam. Breaks are so important. I cannot stress this enough. You are not a computer that can just keep processing information. Study breaks need to involve you walking away from your place of study, even just for a few minutes. Chat to a friend, a sibling, a parent.. anyone! And make sure your breaks do not involve talking about study/exams/anything related to exams. This break needs to be a mental break. You might think this is a waste of time, but trust me, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from studying continuously with no breaks. Set a timer for your break, make sure it does not turn into an hour break when it should only have been for a few minutes (obviously an hour-long break is okay too – have a nice long lunch if that is what your mental health needs – I often did this during study and had a much more productive afternoon of study as a result). – I felt like I was starting afresh. Just make sure your break is serving to make your more productive, and is not just a time to catch up on Instagram etc and see how everyone is having a better time than you.



Dachsund dog being walked in a green park
Picture from June 2016 when I sat my Leaving Cert - me and my pals used to go for walks (my best friend's dog in pic!) even during the exams to clear our heads

2. Delete social media apps that are having a negative impact on your mental health. During my exams in April just gone, I deleted the Instagram app, because I felt as. Though (a) it was wasting valuable study time/acted as a distraction and (b) when I was taking a break, I went on Instagram, and didn’t have a true mental break – instead I actually felt worse afterwards! After seeing people having a great time, or working out, or influencers influencing and looking amazing while I sat in the library – I am all for social media and its positive effects, but. For me, during exams - I personally felt that it did more harm than good to my mental health, and was wasting my valuable time. I just re-downloaded them after exams – but I have to say – I really didn’t miss them, mentally speaking



Person working on tablet with coffee
Stay away from negative social media accounts/apps during exams - be aware of what is contributing to anxiety/stress/negative feelings - and cut it out!

3. Write a list of what you want to get done this week and keep it at the front of your study folder. Then, every day, write a list of what you want to do that day, putting the most difficult thing that you really need to get done at the top of the list, and the not-so important stuff at the bottom of the list. Highlight the ones you get done from your today’s list and then from your weekly list – and you’ll be surprised. At how quickly a mountain of work suddenly is looking achievable! At this point, you probably have most of your study done


4. Try not to cram! If you’re like me and sometimes the night before/day of an exam you suddenly feel you know nothing – cramming will not help! It honestly just confuses the heck out of me! I end up getting confused because it is simply too much information to take in in such a short space of time – you HAVE done the work – and you need to have faith in the fact that you have been working all along – and if you really feel you haven’t done enough preparation for the exam – then try and get some key points from the chapter into your head rather than trying to. skim read the whole thing, and to read over the notes that you have made, rather than trying to. create new ones hours before the exam! This is a time to make sure you are your most mentally agile and to make sure your brain is equipped to recall what is already in there – it is not a time to learn lots of new things!


5. Sleep! For the love of all things good, please, please, please get plenty pf sleep during exams. Some exams are a few hours long, and without enough rest, you simply will run out of energy and motivation during the exam, no matter how important it is. Either that or you’ll get through it but will have no stamina to do anything productive for the rest of the day once it is over. During the leaving and junior certificate, and college exams, you may even have more than 1 exam in a day- so it is vital that you are well rested and ready to go.



sleeping baby on crib
This should be you, sleeping like a baby every night for at least 7/8 hours during exams


6. Have a game plan. Know the layout of the paper – have a quick check on a recent past paper the night before – plan your timing, if you haven’t already. If you know what types of questions come up in each section, then have a rough idea of which question you would like to start with – this should be your strongest question, followed by your second strongest. For the Leaving Cert – my time plan looked kinda like this – and I knew it off (a bit extra but it worked!) e.g.


Timing plan for an exam - plan each minute
Sample Timing Plan for an exam - you gather the most marks in the first few minutes answering a question - it is better to attempt all questions even if it means not finishing every . single . one because of time - but optimal timing will ensure this does not happen


Read over answers -go back to anything you were stuck on. -exam finishes at 12 o’clock.

This was a really valuable tool for me to manage my time, and doing the mock exams really helped me to fine tune my timing to what worked for me. Everyone is different, but I think everyone needs their own personal time plan for each exam


7. Stay until the end of EVERY exam. I will never understand leaving an exam early. Maybe there are some instances where the time given is much longer than the time needed to sit the exam. I just think, you only get one chance to sit this exam, you might as well spend the last e.g. 45 mins that you may have to spare perfecting your answers and making sure you haven’t missed a question or a section and checking grammar etc. Almost every time I have checked over a paper, I have made some sort of a correction – who knows- it could be the difference between a grade! I am a mega nerd and have never left an exam early and it has always served me well so I’m sorry but I swear by it!


8. NO POST-MORTEM. DO NOT GET SUCKED INTO POST-MATCH ANALYSIS!!! If people are talking about how good/bad an exam was afterwards – this is so counterproductive and you need to walk the hell away!! I think this can be really damaging and might make you feelyou answered something. Wrongly compared to what someone else said they wrote. You do not need to know what someone else wrote. You did the exam, well done, move on, you have more to do. It will almost always make you feel worse after talking about it. People may not mean to make you feel bad, but trust me it always happens! So if someone says – “what did you write for…? Did you get qA? Which question did you choose? I can’t believe none of Ms X’s predictions came up!...” etc etc., then you do not need this! Walk away, be happy that you gave it your all. There have been too many times when I thought I did well in an exam, someone who also sat the exam was talking about it, and I have felt so. Much worse about it. Guess what? You are going to get the same grade you would have gotten either way, so do not waste your time with post-mortems.



students talking about exams
"What did you get for question 4? I thought it was really easy" - Go away from this person, like, seriously! Nobody needs post-match analysis, move on with your life.


9. Eat well, stay hydrated, and try to exercise. Why not walk to your exam if it is not too far or get off a stop or two early to get some fresh air and gather your thoughts? (If you get typical exam weather then this will be no bother haha). Drink plenty of water and bring a bottle of water into the exam, and. Even bring a snack like grapes if it is a long exam – I always have and there has never been any problems. (Girl’s gotta eat). When I say drink water – do not overdo it! 1.5-2L per day is plenty. – and I mean water not caffeinated beverages. You should really only be drinking water, and maybe have a decaf tea or something when home if you really fancy it -caffeine messes up your sleep and is always followed by a crash in energy – so easy on the caffeine and NO energy drinks! If you are already feeling anxious – the additional increase in heart rate they produce will make you feel even worse! So stay away guys!



Bowl of porridge with cacao,  milled flaxseed, blueberries, raspberries. Healthy porridge/oatmeal
Make sure to have a good breakfast on the day of your exam. This is porridge with cacao powder and mashed banana added in when it is almost cooked in the pot. Then I pour it into a bowl, and add fruit and flaxseed! Make sure you are well fed and hydrated during exams.

10. Pack your bag and pencil-case the night before! Make sure you have everything you need – pens, pencils, clear pencil-case, calculator, exam number, colouring pencils if needed… go through everything you need and be well prepared – you do not need any source of panic on the day, and leave in plenty of time – do not be any way late. At the same time I never like to be outside the exam centre any sooner than 30 mins for the first exam and 15/20 mins for exams after that one. People chatting beforehand freaks me out, I like my headspace lol, so maybe that would be best for you too!


I hope these tips helped! If you have any more tips, be sure to include them in the comments below, or let me know if they have helped you or if you have any further questions. I have sat so many exams at this stage that I feel I have my exam routine down! Wishing you all the best of luck, and remember to put your mental health first, everything will work out exam-wise. They do not define who you are. Give them your best shot, and that is all you can do.


Also, if you are thinking of your CAO choices, make sure to give my post on CAO choices, and what studying pharmacy is really like here: https://www.dailydoseofginger.com/laurenoreilly/cao-choices-the-future-and-what-studying-pharmacy-is-really-like


Sending love and hugs,


Lauren.

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