Improve Your Exam Performance

It is that time of year when many young people are revising and preparing for exams. It is hard not to feel stressed by exams particularly when the outcome can have a significant effect on your future.

Improve Your Exam Performance

Improve Your Exam Performance

So what can you do to improve your revision and your performance in the exams? There are two lifestyle factors that can have a substantial impact on your performance: your sleep and your nutrition.

Sleep for Better Exam Performance

Research into the role of sleep has shown that poor or inadequate sleep causes drowsiness that leads to reduced performance and memory impairment.  Insight and higher-level learning is also aided by sleep.

The amount of sleep we need varies with age. Adults need about 7.5 hours whereas teenagers need about 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, during the teenage years the brain is going through a number of neurological changes that mean that young adults tend to want to go to sleep later and get up later than when they were younger. School timetables don’t fit in with that pattern but it may be possible during the revision time leading up to exams.  You can catch up a bit at weekends but it is not as effective as regular good quality sleep

Some top sleep tips:

  • Treat your sleep seriously. While you are revising, get into a regular routine of going to bed before midnight and sleeping up to 8 hours if your commitments will allow.
  • Leave electronic equipment outside the bedroom to avoid stimulation. So, no mobile, no TV, and no computers in the bedroom.
  • Dim down light levels as the evening progresses and make sure your bedroom is completely dark. This facilitates the brain to produce melatonin and the neurotransmitters that aid good sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and well-ventilated.
  • To induce sleep, listen to relaxing music, read a calming book or watch an amusing TV program. Do not watch the TV news or read a page-turner or do anything that will over-stimulate you.
  • Avoid or reduce caffeine in the afternoon and evening that includes coffee and energy drinks.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol in the evenings. It negatively effects the quality of sleep.
  • Exercise in the morning or afternoon. Only do light stretching exercises in the evening.

Nutrition for Better Exam Performance

Our food provides the building blocks for our brains and our bodies. Good nutrition supports your mood and your brain function. Poor nutrition results in mood swings, stress on our internal organs and erratic brain function.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and de-caffeinated drinks. Avoid sugary, caffeinated drinks because they increase the level of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in the blood.
  • Reduce added sugar in your diet. Sugars in processed foods go under many names including: agave, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, sorbitol, sucrose, and corn syrup. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Substitute unrefined complex carbohydrates for simple carbohydrates. Eat wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, grains, beans and pulses.
  • Foods that are good for brain function and mood include: salmon, mackerel, herring, flax and pumpkin seeds, meat and eggs.
  • Foods that are good for sleep include: dark cherries, almonds, kale, bananas, honey, flaxseeds and grapes.

For more ideas see Top Revision Tips.

If you need any help to relax and improve your revision and exam performance contact me so we can chat about how I can help you.

Top Revision Tips

If you are revising for exams at the moment, you may find that no matter how hard you study or how many hours you spend revising, the information just isn’t sticking.  If that is how it is for you, you need to try something different.  Here are some tips to make your study more effective:
1.      Set yourself revision goals for each day and plan your work to achieve them.  Make sure you include some rest times every 40-50 minutes.
2.      Rewards yourself for study goals achieved for example call to a friend or have 10 minutes on a favourite game.
3.         Make it easy to do your revision by keeping your study area tidy and well-ordered.  Keep books and notes for different subjects separate and easy to find.
4.         Make it hard for things to distract you.  Keep your mobile phone on silent, turn off Facebook, Twitter etc.  Leave your computer games in a different room
5.      Understand how you prefer to take on and remember information.   Some people take in information most easily through images and pictures, some through sound and some through physical experiences.  If you are someone who can picture things easily, mind maps will be a useful revision tool (see How to Mind Map by Tony Buzan). If pictures don’t work so well for you, try recording your revision notes and listening back to them or just saying them out loud. If you are someone who learns by doing or experiencing things, try walking while reading your notes or tracing key words in the air with your finger.
6.      Exercise first thing in the morning to increase your brain power. Exercise increases levels of hormones that are important to neurotransmitters and generates new brain cells. Study the subject you find most difficult immediately after exercise for the best effect.
7.      Have some peppermint or rosemary essential oil in your revision room. Both scents have been shown to stimulate the brain. If you find it helpful, you can put some on a tissue to take into the exam room.
8.      Baroque music is frequently used by trainers as background music to aid learning. You can try playing Bach, Handel or Vivaldi while you are studying.
9.      Have a laugh! The Von Restorff Effect predicts that material that is outstanding in some way is easier to remember. That distinctiveness can come in the form of humour or by making something bizarre or funny. So if you are having trouble remembering something see if you can put it into a joke or cartoon or make a humorous mnemonic for it.
10.  Drink plenty of water – you can’t think straight when you are dehydrated.
Good Luck!