Keep your focus
Let’s face it, very few people find studying in itself rewarding – most people find it quite boring. But that is what the test is really all about. Can you put aside your immediate desire to hang out with your friends, or go shopping, for a period of a few months, in order to achieve your future goals? Can you force yourself to memorise the contents of your books and files, even when you don’t feel like it? Suffice to say, if it was easy and fun, everyone would sail through. You are likely to have to give some things up in order to pass these exams, so set yourself a rewards like a holiday, gift, or a huge night out, for once the process is over. Visualise yourself on results day. Remember that if you work hard for a few months, life will be much sweeter when you have passed all of your exams and you can do whatever you like.
You probably hear this infuriating phrase from adults all around you. You don’t need to make drastic changes to your personality to help yourself become more efficient. It sounds simple, but making sure you have the right stationary (files, dividers, stickers, highlighters, paper), as well as textbooks, and properly organised notes will help you to break down the enormous task of revising. If you learn well visually, buy large pieces of coloured paper, write a topic or exam question in the middle, and fill it with all of the points about the topic you have learnt. Stick these in your bedroom or bathroom so you can remind yourself while brushing your teeth. Be aware of the timeframe you have before your exam, and do a rough breakdown of what you need to learn and how long you think it will take, so you have a timetable of what you need to be revising and by when. Leave enough time for going over topics, and of course, for past exam questions.
Exploit the exam boards
Your teachers will have prepared you well with notes, tests and textbooks for your revision, but you need to remember that ultimately you will be marked against the criteria of the exam board. The exam board websites will provide materials such as past papers and answer sheets that you can download and use to prepare for the exam. Get hold of the syllabus itself and use that as your checklist for the topics you need to be learning. Make sure you understand what kinds of questions they are going to ask you, what format the exam paper takes, what it looks like. Then the real exam itself should contain fewer surprises.
Ask for help, pronto
If you get stuck and don’t understand a topic, or don’t have enough notes, don’t let this stop you. If you reach this point, go and find a teacher, parent, or classmate. If you have friends in the year above who studied the same subject the year before, ask them if you can see their notes or how to answer certain questions. Don’t struggle in silence!
Mix it up
If you hit a wall, have a change of scene. Alternating between home, school and the library can prevent studying environments feeling stale. Changing whether you study with friends, siblings, or alone can help keep you going. Make sure you choose the right people to surround yourself with, as some friends can be more of a distraction than a study partner. Equally, if you are moving between places, make sure you have all of your books with you, and a good solid bag to carry everything around. It helps to build a routine for yourself so you know where you will be and when.
Consume brain food
The brain uses huge numbers of calories when functioning at full concentration. Fuelling this level of brainpower over a long period requires you to consume the right kind of energy. A full day’s revision, or a three-hour exam, is more of a marathon than a sprint for the brain. Snacking on foods that are high in sugar may cause a temporary boost in energy levels, but this is usually followed by a low. Stick to foods that release energy steadily, such as bananas, wholegrains, nuts, oat-based snacks, brown bread and other carbohydrates which release a steady flow of glucose into the bloodstream. Sugary fizzy drinks have the peak-trough effect, so stick to tea or coffee if you need a little caffeine fix. At meal times, eat foods such as avocados (rich in monounsaturated fatty acids), soya beans (rich in essential fatty acids), broccoli (rich in vitamin K and folic acid) which are all said to strengthen cognitive abilities. Omega-3 also supports the brain’s functions. There are some extremely expensive courses of supplements available to top up levels of Omega 3, but these should not be necessary if you eat fish like salmon, which also contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that has been found to boost neuron function in the brain. Eating at regular intervals is key to sustaining energy levels. Breakfast, lunch and supper, with elevenses and an afternoon snack are also good intervals for you to have a break from work.
Even mild dehydration can significantly reduce concentration levels and affect mood. Keeping two-litre bottles of water at your revision desk can help up your intake. Students are usually allowed to take bottles of water into exams, although be careful not to overdo it, or you may waste precious time on trips to the bathroom!
Although it might feel like you do not have time to squeeze in regular exercise in the revision and exam period, it is a great way to relieve stress, improve your mood and energy levels, and keep up motivation. Exercising needn’t take up precious hours of exam preparation. If you usually play regular sport, plan your revision so you can do enough hours around a match or practice session. Team sports are a good way to get some guilt-free socialising in at the same time. Even if you aren’t sporty, make sure you go for a half-hour walk every day in the fresh air, or try relaxing activities like yoga, which can help give you a mental break as well. In some cases, you can combine work and exercise. For example, if you have access to a gym, try writing out a page of notes, or some revision cards with you, so you can place them in front of you while working out. Try making recordings to listen to on your iPod while exercising. You will find that after exercising, you come back to your books refreshed and with better concentration levels.