Staying Healthy During Exam Time
When you are in the middle of an exam period, or even study leave or revision time, your focus is usually very much on your work.
It can feel like a waste of valuable study time and effort to spend any time or energy on shopping for food, or cooking, or even sleeping, never mind seeing friends.
It, however, a mistake to neglect yourself altogether.
When you are stressed, as is often the case around exams, your body will find it harder to fight off infections, or to manage as normal. You need to give it all the help you can.
This page explains how to keep yourself healthy around exams.
Food and Eating
To manage your exams, you will need to eat well.
This does not mean ‘a lot’, but a well-balanced diet that is reasonably healthy. For more information about this, have a look at our pages on Food, Diet and Nutrition.
Do not be tempted to skip meals, or survive on chips or pizza for a fortnight. Your body and your mind will not thank you for it, and you will find it harder to work. You may even make yourself ill.
If you are living with your parents, or in university halls, or have access to a canteen, this may be easier, as someone else is available to cook for you. Even without this, however, there are ways to manage.
- Cook double, or even triple portions, every time you cook. The next day, reheat what you cooked the day before. This means you will only have to cook every other day at most; or
- If you are living with friends who are also doing exams, share cooking and shopping duties so that you take it in turns.
It is also important that you get enough sleep.
Revising late into the night will not help you the next day.
Even if you have an exam (perhaps, especially if you have an exam), you are better off stopping earlier and relaxing.
Set yourself a time at which you always stop work—9pm is probably late enough for most people—and be rigid about it. That will give you enough time to relax before you want to go to bed.
Have a bath, go and visit friends, read or watch television or check your social media, whatever you like to do, but make sure that you have time to relax and unwind a bit, and do something other than working.
There are more tips to help you relax before sleeping in our page on The Importance of Sleep.
It can also be easier to sleep if you have taken some exercise during the day. Even a brisk walk around the block when you finish for the evening can be helpful (though make sure you stay safe if it is late at night: take someone with you, and always tell someone where you are going).
It can be tempting to decide that you have no time to exercise during exam periods.
Exercise, however, has proven benefits for brain activity: it gets the blood flowing faster around your body, including your brain.
Some scientists suggest that if you are going to do only one thing to help avoid dementia, you should exercise.
During exams, therefore, it is helpful to continue to exercise.
Try to do at least some exercise each day, even if it is only taking a brisk walk. This will not only help your brain and blood flow, but will also give you a break. This is a good thing when you are working hard, and can also wake you up and re-energise you if you are struggling to concentrate.
There is more about this in our page The Importance of Exercise.
Nobody is suggesting that you should be spending every evening socialising during your study leave or exam period.
At university or school, the chances are that most of your peers will also be doing exams, and will be similarly unsociable anyway.
It is, however, a mistake to cancel your social life completely during exams.
Everyone needs some ‘down time’. For those who thrive on social situations, a quick trip to the pub may prove to be just the tonic you needed to get going again the next day. Those who prefer the company of just one or two friends may find it easier to spend a quiet hour or so chatting and recharging.
Before your exams start, talk to a couple of friends who are not doing exams—perhaps because they are at different stages of their course or career—and ask them to come and visit you from time to time during your exams and/or make sure that you go out, so that you have no excuse.
One of the hardest issues around exam time is to stay calm and manage your stress.
A little stress and adrenaline is fine, especially if it helps you to keep your mind on your work. Too much, however, can be detrimental, and make it harder to study.
When all around you are also doing exams, it is particularly hard to remember this, and to manage your own stress.
Useful tips for avoiding and managing stress during exams include:
- Starting revision early and being organised, so that you will be more confident that you have done enough work. There is really no substitute for having done the work, and knowing this;
- Spending time with people who are not doing exams, and who are therefore less stressed, and more likely to be discussing other things. This will help to distract you, and ensure that you do not spend your whole life thinking about exams;
- Don’t compare yourself with your friends, and particularly don’t discuss how much revision you have done. This is a recipe for feeling inferior, and therefore stressed;
- Make sure you take time out to do other things, particularly exercise. If necessary, make an agreement with a friend that you will go out running or perhaps swimming together two or three times a week, so that you are both committed;
- Some people find that meditating and mindfulness are really helpful to reduce stress, as they require discipline and focus on something else; and
- Once you are into exam period, managing your revision timetable sensibly. If you have an exam each day, it may be better to spend the evening relaxing, rather than revising, especially if you have done plenty of work beforehand.
You can find more ideas about managing and avoiding stress in our pages on Stress and Stress Management.
…if you do become ill during exams, whether from stress or mental illness, or physically, it is important to seek help from a doctor as soon as possible.
If you are ill, you may need to ask for some allowance to be made by your examiners. Your doctor’s testimonial is likely to be important in their decision.
Keeping well is important at exam time, and during study time.
Looking after yourself through cooking, shopping, exercising and eating well is not a waste of time, it is very important.
Get these things wrong and you will make the whole period feel like an uphill struggle. Get them right, however, and your revision, study and exams will all be that little bit easier.