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Q&A: Lottie Jones on Exam Stress

Langwith College Tutor, Lottie Jones, discusses student exam stress and the best ways to combat it

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Image Credit: Image: Nicola Jones

How does stress affect exam performance?
An optimum level of stress can be beneficial around exam season to motivate you to do your assignments or revise. However, once optimum levels of stress are exceeded, this is when performance is impaired because of the increased levels of anxiety. Furthermore, feeling stressed may impair your sleeping pattern and appetite, both of which are vital for exam performance. Therefore, it is important to plan well in advance to ensure you feel prepared and have enough time to complete all of your work.

How can we make sure we are keeping up a healthy balance of work and social activities this term?
Often during exam season we feel that in order to do well we should be working during every waking hour. However, this could actually be reducing productivity and will have a negative effect on mental wellbeing. By timetabling out your work in advance, you can set yourself a manageable workload each day, which if you stick to, ensures you cover everything you need to before the deadline. By keeping to this timetable, this also allows you to plan social activities, or time when you can just chill. Instead of feeling guilty about these, view them as being as important as work, as they allow you to recharge and benefit your mental health. Depending on the amount of work you have, everyone’s balance will be different, but make sure that you get some down-time each day.

What are the benefits of exercise?
Exercise has many benefits for brain activity, and can be the perfect way to have a break from work, while also doing something productive. Even going on a brisk walk around campus will re-energise you and increase your focus if you are struggling to concentrate. Furthermore, doing exercise could be a good opportunity to catch up with friends, if you are part of a sports club for example, or like to go to the gym with others.

What other activities can help to reduce stress?
The best way to reduce stress around the exam period is to do something that you enjoy, or something that calms you down. This could be anything from making yourself a cup of tea and reading your favourite book, to phoning a friend to have a quick chat, or practicing mindfulness through colouring or meditation. There are many apps promoting daily mindfulness which allow you to put everything into perspective and take some time out of your day to truly relax.

How important is diet?
Even though you may be sat down revising for eight hour periods at a time, your body still needs food to fuel your brain. Make sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet, while also allowing yourself some treats as motivation. If you enjoy cooking, then making meals each night will provide a good time to relax. If not, then a good idea is to batch cook food which you can reheat for the next few days so you don’t have to cook every day. Catching up with friends over dinner is a good way to unwind, and making group meals can also save time.

How important is maintaining a good sleeping pattern?
A good sleeping pattern is essential for concentration and energy levels, and getting into a routine will help structure your day. Understanding when you work best is the key to maintaining a good sleeping pattern. Some people work well in the morning, in which case they will want to get an early night, whereas others work well in the evening, so may want to stay up later. Whatever your preference, make sure to get around 8 hours of sleep each night to ensure your brain has time to consolidate the work you have done and rest. Make sure you also give yourself some time to unwind before you go to sleep, so you are not still thinking about work once you do go to bed.

How can we best keep focused?
By organising your time using a revision schedule, you then know each day what you are meant to be focusing on, which makes it easier to know where to start. Make sure to get rid of distractions for example, by switching off your phone, working in the library, and turning off email notifications. It is also a good idea to keep a post-it note next to you, so if you remember anything non- urgent which you need to do later, you can jot it down and come back to it in a break. Bear in mind that everyone has different levels of concentration. You may find that you can concentrate for 30 minutes, but after that you start procrastinating. In this case, stick to 30 minute blocks of working with a set break in-between so you can  refresh your mind, but also know when to go back to working. To help you stick to these timings, it may be helpful to download a study app which can lock certain apps, for example all social media, for specific time periods to help reduce temptation.

What kinds of things does Langwith College offer to combat stress?
In Langwith, our Cosy Corner in the Common Room is the perfect space to relax during exam season. Curl up on a beanbag with a book, or get creative with some of the mindfulness colouring books to unwind. We also put on weekly yoga sessions with Constantine in The Forum, and have started a gardening club this term, to plant fruit and vegetables on Hes East. Both of these would be great as a revision break, and the gardening club means you also get some fresh air. Lastly, we offer regular wellbeing workshops covering themes such as conquering stress and pushing through procrastination which you can book onto here: bit.ly/Wellbeing- workshops.

Interview by Jodie Sheehan

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