From November to January, many GCSE students are busy revising and preparing for mock exams. Whilst these exams are an excellent way for students to gain an example of what the ‘real thing’ will feel like, the process in itself can be extremely stressful for them.
With so many significant changes to core subject syllabuses in recent years, the raw content of courses has increased. In the past teachers could quite feasibly complete the syllabus by Christmas, leaving a good proportion of time to move on to refining exam technique and getting students exam-ready. Sadly this is no longer the case and the modern student must feel the added pressure of completing the course content whilst having to to start revision at the same time.
It’s now a well known and rather worrying statistic that over 1 in 4 adults will suffer with mental health problems in any one year and a concerning 1 in 10 children will also be affected at some point in their childhood or adolescence. Never has mind care and mindful study been more poignant.
So how can both young people and adult learners cope with the increased demands on their study time? There is unfortunately no quick fix to changing how a person thinks about or copes with exam preparation but thankfully there are many useful strategies that students can use to help them manage their feelings about their growing workload. Here are my top five tips for mindful study:
Mindful study is much different to and far better than mindless study. Evaluate your revision plan every two weeks and make sure that it’s working for you. It’s not about the number of hours you put in, it’s about the quality of the revision that takes place. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have and plan your approach carefully.
2. Be Mindful!
Our brains are thinking machines but it’s imperative not to let your thoughts consume you. Thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not actually real so why place too much emphasis on what might be? More often than not what we think doesn’t happen exactly as planned. Focus on the now and be positive. If you are worrying about something in the future, remind yourself that it is not real and pull yourself back to now. Meditation can help with this so find an app that you like and give it a go. 10 minutes of this practice could help you to quieten your mind and refocus.
3. Plan Downtime
Studying in every spare minute you have is actually not the best approach to exam preparation. It’s important to relax and have regular breaks. When you write your study or revision timetable try to include two occasions a week where you plan time to relax and take care of yourself.
Making time to exercise your body will actually benefit your mind. It’s been proven to improve your memory and your thinking skills. Exercise can also lift your mood and leave you feeling more energised. Just taking 30 minutes out to move might even make you feel more motivated to tackle that pile of work.
5. Pace Yourself
It’s really not about how long you study for but how smartly you work. Short bursts are proven to be more effective than long stints of study. You will retain and process information better. Try working for 25 minutes at a time and build in 5 minute breaks. Set a timer to remind yourself to stop and breathe.
These techniques may seem simple and obvious but it’s amazing how many people don’t consider using them and forget to take care of themselves when they’re in the throes of study. Working yourself into the ground will not make your performance any better. In fact it could actually lead to a period of exhaustion, even burnout. Perhaps the best thing a student can do when really building up to an exam period is to take care of their mind and body first. If you feel healthy, you will process information better, be sharper and feel motivated to achieve your best result.
Jude Vale was a secondary school English teacher and head of department for over 16 years. She is now a freelance writer and runs her own tuition and coaching services company in Bath, Adspiro.