Exam season is in full swing. The libraries are full and the clubs are empty. Let’s face it, Easter Term is a challenge and, between balancing revision and supervisions, it is easy to lose your cool and get caught up in it all. Instead of giving the revision tips that you’ve probably all heard before, this article will hopefully be a gentle reminder to look after yourself this term and a few pointers on where to start. While academic performance is a priority, it shouldn’t come at the expense of mental or physical health. With that being said, here are 7 steps to look after yourself during exam term:
Keep your body fuelled up!
Sitting for hours in the library without breaks might seem like the best way to cram in all the content, but you can’t expect your body to work intensely for such long periods of time unless you give it something to work with. You’ve probably heard of the concept of ‘brain-food’ and, no, it’s not nonsense. Studying intensely, recalling information and maintaining stamina is much easier if you’ve had a good meal. If you’re planning an all-day-study-marathon there is no need to make yourself a martyr unnecessarily. Take snacks and make sure you take a proper break for lunch— or whenever you’re hungry. Also, no one likes to hear stomachs rumbling when they’re trying to study!
It’s a well-known fact that the clubs are eerily empty during exam season and college seems a lot quieter too. While that’s expected, cutting off all contact and hiding away in your room isn’t going to guarantee you good grades. It’s important to try and keep some aspects of uni life normal when doing exams and so meeting up with friends for lunch or for drinks one night really wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it might be a nice release from revision— just don’t go overboard and regret it the next morning. You could also arrange something to look forward to after exams have ended, maybe a party or a trip with friends. Whatever it is, maintaining contact with the outside world is key to keep you grounded and to keep things in perspective.
Keep your mental health a priority
During the exam period, it is easy to get bogged down and to lose sight of anything apart from all the revision you have to get through. So, keeping tabs on how you’re feeling mental health-wise is really important. Be kind to yourself, try to maintain a positive dialogue with yourself, and give yourself praise and rewards for working hard (even if it feels like the progress is slow!)
When it comes to setting goals, try not to be too harsh on yourself and keep it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). For example, saying ‘I would like to finish three lecture sets by lunchtime’ is more helpful than ‘I must study all day’. Remember to take your energy levels into account, keeping a balance between ‘intense’ revision (such as doing past-paper questions) and ‘lighter’ revision (reading through flashcards), as well as scheduling in breaks!
Finally, small things like mindfulness activities (colouring in, tidying up, etc) and meditation can leave you feeling good aside from revision.
Find different places to revise
While retreating to your room might help minimise distractions, it might be equally as useful and stimulating to study in other places. It also creates a clear distinction between ‘relaxing’ and ‘work’ spaces, which can help you switch off at the end of the day. Admittedly, the college libraries get overwhelmingly full at this time of year so it might be better to branch out, or outside even. Studying in the college gardens or in parks provides a nice change of environment and some fresh air. Or, if the weather’s grim, faculty libraries (especially a different faculty from your own!) and the University Library are often more spacious. If you’re someone who can work in a social setting, then there are lots of coffee shops/college cafés in Cambridge too. If you’re struggling to find a place to study then try https://spacefinder.lib.cam.ac.uk, a website that matches study spaces to your needs.
Maintain general physical health
Hunching over a desk for hours isn’t exactly great for the body, and when you’re in the flow of revision, it can be easy to forget your basic well-being: food, exercise, water and sleep. If you find yourself getting aches and pains, try to have a break every hour, where you can stand up, stretch, have a walk and get some fresh air. Also, saving time for exercise in your daily or weekly routine is important to help relieve stress and keep you moving. It sounds obvious but staying hydrated is crucial, ideally with water rather than too much caffeine. If you find yourself feeling generally run down, though, maybe consider taking vitamins and having a think about the kind of food you’re eating. Finally, getting plenty of sleep (7 – 9 hours) is worth so much more than cramming in the library late at night.
Exploring places to ‘escape’ to
If you’re looking for a proper break from revision, perhaps a few hours off, then Cambridge is full of spaces to ‘escape’ to. The Fen Causeway is a nice open space to sit and relax or walk by the river as are the Botanic Gardens. More interactively, the Fitzwilliam Museum might be more your style; looking through the galleries is sure to chill you out and take your mind off work. Wherever you go, grabbing a blanket and sitting outside for an hour or listening to some good music is a good way to get away from it all for a bit.
Ask for help if you need it
On a more serious note, if you really are struggling during exam season then don’t be afraid to let people know. It might be the most stressful period in your life so far and your DoS, tutor and supervisors know this. Send them an email asking for advice, guidance, or even just moral support. They are more than likely going to be happy to help. Alternatively, if your friends are too busy or you have an issue you don’t feel comfortable discussing with people you know, Cambridge Nightline is an anonymous service that lets you call up and talk about what’s on your mind. Visit their website here to find out more: https://cambridge.nightline.ac.uk
These tips are by no means all you can do to look after yourself during Exam Term, but hopefully they have given you some food for thought about keeping your mental and physical health a priority this term, as well as your grades. Good luck with the revision, keep calm and be kind to yourselves!
- The Student Minds website has a really helpful section on exam stress accessible here: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/examstress.html.
- Student Minds Cambridge has an Easter Term Self-Care Guide here: https://bit.ly/2WS8ZWl
- Many students will be studying during Ramadan this year, and we recognise that some of this advice might not be relevant. Study International have an article with tips specifically for Muslim students who are fasting: https://bit.ly/2VKVB9X