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Sitting an exam is not for the faint-hearted. It requires you to perform at your peak on the allocated day and can be a huge source of anxiety for many. Madeleine Jennings offers tips to ease the pressure.

Be prepared

Exams don’t take place without notice since all official courses of study must state how you will be graded. So the key to getting the most out of yourself on the day is to devise a realistic study schedule and stick to it. When it comes to optimum mental output, the brain can concentrate for only so long, so even if you’ve assigned a whole day for study, always include short breaks within this time. Make a cup of tea, take the dog for a walk, flick through a magazine, phone a friend, meditate or just do nothing to relieve your mind.

For longer study schedules (some schools allocate weeks for year 12 students on ‘study vacation’) assign whole days off for doing something completely unrelated to study. Arrange a day out with friends, visit a museum, go to the movies or a concert, go shopping, go on a hike or cook a nice meal for your family. It’s important to give yourself ‘treat days’ while you study, otherwise, your schedule will seem interminable and your end goal insurmountable.

Ditch the distractions

On the flip side, when you do sit down to study, make sure you actually study! Find a quiet spot at home and shut the door. If this is impossible, go to your local library. University libraries and other tertiary institutions have whole floors dedicated to self-study. Once you’ve found somewhere suitable, turn off your mobile so you don’t get distracted from the task at hand. It’s a good idea generally to get off social media because you don’t want to be comparing yourself to others, and especially so during this important time.

Let your family and friends know you’ll be studying, so they’ll understand when you decline invitations to attend events and don’t over commit yourself socially either. There’ll be time to enjoy get-togethers once your exams are done. If you work full-time, ask to cut back on your hours. If you have a part-time job, try and find someone to fill in for you while you study.

Look after yourself

To get the best out of your brain, take a holistic approach by giving your physical body what it needs: sufficient sleep, adequate exercise and a diet filled with nutritious food. When you get overly stressed or anxious, it can become a vicious cycle: you can’t sleep at night through worry and then you can’t function properly during the day through lack of sleep. However, don’t reach for caffeine to get you through this! High intakes of caffeine while well known as energy boosters also make your heart race dangerously fast. Being well hydrated is far more important as this is essential for your brain to function at its optimum. So having a refillable, stainless steel drink bottle on your study desk all the time is a great idea – and don’t forget to hydrate on exam day too.

To relieve insomnia avoid caffeine after midday and try a soothing chamomile tea before bed. If your nerves are getting the better of you and you are feeling anxious, liquid herbal tonics can help calm and relax you – look for herbs such as passionflower, hops, rhodiola and lemon balm.

Preparing and eating nutritious meals can often take a back seat when you’re focused on upcoming exams, so this is when a good multivitamin may come in handy. The B group vitamins in the multi are particularly beneficial for relieving stress, magnesium is also useful as this mineral is essential for energy production and becomes rapidly depleted when your body is under pressure.

If you have trouble concentrating or recalling your notes, try supplementing with products containing Brahmi (Bacopa monniera), sage (Saliva officinalis or lavandulaefolia) and ginkgo (Gingko biloba). These herbs all promote the cognitive process, particular memory.

Finally, remind yourself it’s not the end of the world if you don’t do well on exam day. For young people wanting to study further, there are often alternatives for eventually getting into the course of your choice. Whatever your situation, adjust your expectations, move on and try to look on the bright side of life.