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Exam time can be stressful for students and for parents as well. But it doesn’t have to be.

Hi, I’m Doctor Joe.

It’s amazing how quickly the years go by and suddenly we find ourselves at exam season for high school and those completing their secondary education and of course people at university as well. And really since exams have come in, it can be stressful in the lead up to them. Have I done enough work, am I prepared, you know, what do I need to do?

Alright, there’s some very basic non-medical things and the first one of course is being steady with your work throughout the year so by the time you do reach exam time you have done most of the work and we’re not, hopefully, cramming at the last minute. And I suppose these days also the way marks are calculated there is more value placed on what you do through the year.

So then what can you then do in the lead up to and during exam periods? In this situation, it’s often sporting analogies that can be helpful. If you want to be at your best on grand final day or on a major sports day, you need to have had adequate rest, you need to have done your training, you need to be eating the right sorts of foods and you need some discipline.

The same principles apply in exam preparation. You want to be at your best on exam day so you need to have done the training or study before. You also need to be eating a sensible diet, so that means fruits and vegetables, high quality proteins, some whole grains, plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. You probably don’t want to be living on fast foods and sugary snacks. It’s just not good brain food. So we need a sensible diet.

We also need to be doing some regular exercise because we know that that’s good for stress management. We also know that breaks from study help the brain digest what we’ve studied. So there’s some work that shows that if we do study in blocks, so maybe for an hour or a couple of hours, maybe have a half hour break, come back maybe do another couple of hours, it is actually better than doing four hours straight.

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It’s also been shown that doing a little bit of every subject everyday may be helpful. The brain starts to recognise material as important if it’s repeated. So if you’re doing maths on Monday, English on a Tuesday and say science on a Wednesday, it’s not quite as good as doing a little bit of each subject every day because the brain starts to think, “Oh this must be important, we did it yesterday and the day before, we’re doing it again today, I probably need to remember this.

Okay, that may sound a little bit trite but the principle is there, that repetition helps. I think advertisers have known that for years and we know that if things are repeated we tend to remember them. So keeping at it matters.

Stress management is important as well. A little bit of stress and a little bit of adrenalin will get us out of bed in the morning and be a motivator but too much stress is counter-productive. So simple things, some guided meditations or deep breathing, some relaxation techniques, maybe yoga or tai chi for those who are into that are simple things to help with stress management.

Going for a walk in the park, sitting at the beach for a little while, don’t get burnt of course, but just simple things to give your mind a break.

Again, the sporting analogy, you need to be training if you’re playing in a match but you can’t be training all the time, your body also needs a break. Same principles apply.

And lastly, getting enough sleep is important. We all know that we’re not going to function well if we don’t get much sleep. So staying up the night before until 3am might seem like you’re cramming at the last minute but it’s not going to make nearly as much difference as what you think, if at all. So you’re probably going to be better off making sure that you’re getting enough sleep.

So in some respects, managing your health through an exam period is not that much different to what you would do on a normal basis. Sensible diet, a little bit of regular exercise, some stress management and having enough sleep. Keep the basics right and you won’t go too far wrong.

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Date Created: November 11, 2014 Date Modified: November 14, 2018