The 24 hours leading up to an exam can often be the most daunting, and it is important to be able to deal with the inevitable nerves appropriately, and prepare yourself to be as composed and adept as possible on the day.
Everyone has their own routine and coping mechanisms, and should adhere by them, but there are some helpful tips that you could follow to maximise your performance on the day of an exam.
Don’t overload yourself the day before an exam.
A common practice that students follow is to cram as much as they can the day before, in attempts to fill their brain with as much information leading up to the exam. If you’re a person who feels relief from working several hours the day before an exam, fair enough. But often, this only leads to excess stress, and can cause your brain to feel overloaded. Ideally, you want to be relaxed going into an exam. Studies have shown that under a slight amount of stress students perform better, but you don’t want that stress to become overbearing.
Ideally, you should have done most of your preparation well before the exam, and when that last day comes around, you should know most of your stuff. A day of intense cramming or mindless hours of studying will not improve your performance. It is important to study hard leading up to the exam, but often this last day should be utilised to revisit some exam style questions, or some past papers. For english, you might want to write your essay or quotes out to reassure yourself that you remember them, or for Maths or Sciences, you may want to complete just one past paper. For social sciences, you may look to read through your notes to refresh your memory. But in this day, you want to be doing some study, and some stress relieving activities.
Get a good night’s sleep
This could quite possibly be the most important tip on this list. A good night’s sleep is imperative for exam performance. To build upon the previous point, late night cramming is not going to improve your performance, especially if you have prepared well in the previous days. Sleep improves brain function, and has been proven to enhance memory. Focusing your attention after you’ve pulled an all-nighter is extremely challenging, and will deteriorate your ability to process questions, problem solve, and articulate answers correctly.
If you are unsatisfied with your preparation and feel like you need to do more, try waking up earlier in the morning. Get in bed by 10pm, and give yourself a few hours in the morning to overlook your notes, remember quotes, or revise your understanding of a concept. This will allow yourself to have received adequate rest for the exam, and you will be able to focus on your studying more so in the morning, because you are fresh after waking up from a good night’s sleep, rather than burning the midnight oil and being unable to process what you’re studying.
Eat a healthy, and filling breakfast.
So many students decide to skip breakfast on exam day because they feel like they’ll be sick from nerves, or they “don’t have time,” or if they do have a breakfast, it’s not healthy or well suited for the big day ahead. Being hungry in an exam is such an impediment, and will deteriorate your ability to focus drastically. Furthermore, often people who get sick prior to an exam are those who haven’t eaten properly, and rather, when they have a healthy breakfast, they feel much better. Imagine that feeling of butterflies in your stomach mixed with gut wrenching hunger, it’s not great. That’s why it is so important to have a good breakfast on the morning of an exam.
Eating the right breakfast is imperative too. What will improve your performance are foods that are rich in protein and fibre, as these will lead to better brain function, and mental alertness. I’ll leave the details of your breakfast up to you, but some options are; whole grain cereal like Weet-Bix or Special K (NOT FRUIT LOOPS OR COCO PUFFS), fruit like; bananas, apples, or berries, eggs however you’d like, oatmeal, nuts, yogurt, or sugar free muesli. A combination of these foods, with a side of milk or orange juice, and you’re good to go.
Relax in the hour leading up to the exam.
I’m going to tell you something crazy, but maybe it isn’t best to stand outside your exam room and cry to yourself as you attempt to memorise your notes word for word. You want to be going into that exam room cool as a cucumber, and confident that you know your stuff. Get to that exam room nice and early (I’d advise aim to get there 30-45 minutes early) so that there’s no chance you’re late to your exam, and just enjoy yourself. Don’t look at your notes, don’t ask any questions, just talk to your mates and have a laugh. Just relax. Try travelling to the exam as a group because they are the ones who you will be the most comfortable and calm around.
Here are some strategies that work exceptionally for releasing that pre-exam stress. Blast some of your favourite music in the car with your best mates with only one rule; “No exam talk.” If you love getting active, play some sport just before the exam, or hit the gym if that’s you. Exercising will release endorphins which will reduce that exam anxiety, and has also been proven to measurably improve creativity, alertness, and memory. Playing a quick basketball game, or kicking a footy around is a perfect way to prepare yourself. If you love your books, have a read of a novel you need to catch up on and let yourself get lost in that. Whoever you are, spend that last hour doing something you enjoy, that makes you feel calm and joyful.
There are 4 tips that you can easily implement in the 24 hours prior to an exam, to help you maximise your exam performance. Here’s a little extra one if you managed to get this far. Bring a water bottle into your exam, ideally, a clear glass bottle. It is important to stay hydrated during the exam, and taking a sip of water will give you a mini break in between questions to allow your brain to relax and reboot. If you’re stuck on a question, or don’t know what to write, it’s a nice little reset button which gives you a break and allows you to think. Good luck for trials everybody! Back yourself, and take it easy.