Katy Forrest is a third year LLB student at the University of Stirling, who previously followed the BA Programme for a year before switching to the LLB. She will become the first university graduate in her family, and has an interest in intellectual property and child law.
Exam and Essay seasons are well underway, and we all know that they bring with them an inordinate amount of stress for many students; myself included.
Being stressed is often viewed as a negative by many people, but if you can manage it, life goes from just being ‘stressed’ to working in an environment where you are in control. Sure, you’re still under pressure with your exams and essays, but you’ll be in a position where you can control that pressure, and thrive under it.
Being able to thrive in high-pressure environments is a great quality to have. I’ve spent time working in hospitality and retail, and in both jobs, the ability to work under pressure was key. Being able to deliver results at critical times is not only a great asset in the workplace, but it also stands you in good stead in your studies.
Take ownership of your time during exam season, stay focussed, and you will see results.
But how do you control stress?
The first step to combating your exam stress is working out where it stems from. Research has pin-pointed some good places to start looking:
- Low motivation
- Lack of preparation and planning
- High expectations from others
- Competition from peers
Once you’ve worked out where your stress comes from (and it may not be one of the four reasons listed), it’s time to work out how to get around it. For example, in my first year I was woefully underprepared coming into exam season – partly because I’d let things happening in my personal life get on top of me – but it all became simpler once I set up a study timetable, and broke what initially seemed like impossible amounts of work into smaller, easy-to-finish sections.
Besides figuring out where my stress comes from, there's a few things that I’ve found do help when I’m stressed at exam time. A solid daily routine is one thing: getting up at a certain time, going to bed at a certain time, and splitting my day into sections all help. But staying focused and working all day isn’t fun for anybody, so it’s important to find a method which works for you.
Below, I’ve given examples of five things I do at exam time to keep stress as low as possible; I’m not saying these are quick fixes for good grades (they only come with knowledge and application) but keeping calm can give you an extra boost in that exam hall.
Nobody expects you to be up and in the gym at 7am every morning during exam time, before sprinting to the library to study for eight hours solid. I find that taking a 10-20-minute walk around lunchtime keeps me awake and focused when I get back. I’ll usually time that with lunch to break up my day a bit.
This one is divisive – some people cannot listen to music while they study, but for me, classical music or something ambient really helps me focus and takes me out of the study environment a little, letting me zone in on what I’m doing. Personally, I listen to game soundtracks, but other people prefer Chopin or Mozart!
Having a plan which I can stick to helps to visualise my day, and also measure how successful a day has been: ticking tasks off as they’re done is rewarding in its own right, and lets me see how much I’ve achieved each day in the run up to an exam.
Let’s be honest, who doesn't enjoy sleep? Making sure you get enough of it at exam time is crucial. You don't want to be trying to sit an exam after an all-nighter; your brain is sluggish and won’t perform as well as it would if you gave it a full night’s rest.
Sleeping actually helps your brain embed the stuff you’ve learnt during the day, and staying rested makes it easier to focus the next day.
5. Don't ignore your hobbies
If you’re an avid gym goer, don’t neglect going to the gym during exam time – the same is true of any hobby. Playing guitar during exam time helps me relax and forget about the stress for a short time, and lets me refocus. The same is true of many sports and other pursuits. If you enjoy something, exam season is not the time to cut it out of your life.