How I’m surviving exam season
As I’ve been a student for most of my life, I’ve sat more exams than I can count. This means I’ve been through the motions of exam seasons many times and, as a result, I feel I know what works for me during this time to maximise my productivity while preventing burn out and protecting my mental health. Here’s how I’m getting through revising for my end of second year exams:
Routine and structure
Without any timetabled activities from the university to give each day structure, it’s easy to lose any sense of routine. I find planning my working days really helps me stay productive during working hours and properly unwind when I’m not studying. I start and stop revising at the same time every day and give myself regular scheduled breaks to get up and away from my desk, stretch my legs and grab a drink/snack. I tend to stop around 6-7pm so I can eat dinner and unwind for the evenings and generally avoid working late at night. I also ease off a little at the weekends and leave time to do things that aren’t revision.
I find creating a rough revision timetable on a week-by-week basis helps for many reasons. Firstly, it spreads out everything I need to do between now and the exam so my workload is roughly consistent each day. Secondly, it ensures all the content I need to cover will be done in advance of the exam, which makes me feel less stressed. And thirdly, it gives each day a definitive ‘end’ as revision can often feel like a never-ending task, so a daily to-do list gives me both the motivation to keep going and an end-point so I know when to stop.
My to-do lists consist of the bare minimum I need to cover each day. I don’t jam-pack each day with additional tasks so I have some wiggle-room to re-arrange my mandatory tasks as quite often certain topics can take longer than expected. I tend to do the more taxing tasks in the morning, as that’s when my concentration levels are best (fuelled by copious cups of coffee), saving the “easier” tasks for the afternoon/evening when my energy levels tend to dip.
As a keen runner, I’m no stranger to the benefits of exercise for both my physical and mental health, so I make sure I keep up with this while revising. I usually go on shorter and easier runs so I don’t tire myself too much. On days when I’m not running I like to mix it up – this could be climbing with friends, weight training, swimming or just a 30 minute walk around the park to stretch my legs and get outside. During exam season, chasing personal bests and training hard is not the goal – I prioritise getting out of the house (or library) and doing exercise that I enjoy.
Know my limits
One thing I’ve definitely got better at with experience (and age) is knowing when to stop and have some time off. Trying to force yourself to be productive when you’re over-worked is futile. In the past I’ve tried to push through but the outcome is always the same — I find it really difficult to process new information and seem to “forget” things that I do actually know, when really it’s because my brain is frazzled. When this happens, I stop what I’m doing and have a very long break. This might be a couple of hours or a full day, but I take as long as I need and then I return to my work feeling properly refreshed and ready to continue. I do not let myself feel guilty for doing this and remind myself that taking proper time off to unwind is actually more productive than trying to study when you’re burnt out.
Keep the end goal in mind
And finally, I remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m training to be a doctor and these exams will get me one step closer to my goal. This keeps my spirits up and motivates me to keep going.