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Revision tips: how to avoid a meltdown in the exam hall

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Exams are looming. For first-year students in particular, they can feel especially foreboding. Here we’ve brought together experts including psychologists, lecturers and wellbeing counsellors to give their top advice on how to sail through your exams. 

Train yourself to be positive

“If you’re feeling like you can’t do it – whether during a tough revision session or an exam itself – try using the self-talk technique to remind yourself what you have achieved and to build self-belief. Try to adopt a go-to, personalised, positive phrase or mantra, such as ‘I am, I can, I will’ or ‘I believe I can do my best’. Repeating this phrase over a series of days, weeks and months, especially at moments of triumph like completing a mock exam, will drown out the negative thoughts – and it can be easily recalled if you hit a mental wall during an exam.”
Alban Ferrieu, wellbeing counsellor at ACS Hillingdon international school

Study to soothing scents

“A recent study found that smelling something distinctive like rosemary essential oil when studying and then again before the exam can help you remember facts. In general, remember that confidence is key: although aiming low to avoid disappointment might seem helpful, studies show that thinking pessimistically can actually stop you from doing your best. So practice saying positive affirmations such as ‘I am prepared!’, and use positive imagery and visualisation to see yourself being successful in the exam to boost your self-esteem and chances of success.”
Elena Touroni, psychologist at My Online Therapy clinic

Don’t revise through the night

“A good night’s sleep can help you retain information as well as learn new skills. Make sure you sleep well by avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening and making some time during the day for exercise. A regular bedtime routine can also help. Try to stop revising at least an hour before going to sleep so you have time to unwind. Even a quick nap during the day could help your brain consolidate the information you’ve been revising – but don’t nap for too long, as it could make it more difficult for you to sleep properly at night.”
Laura Little, learning manager at wellbeing charity CABA

Try mind exercises to avoid exam-hall panic

“If you’re feeling panicked – either while revising or in an exam – here are some tips to reduce stress and distract the mind.

“Spread the fingers of your left hand. Now, using the index finger of your right hand, trace the spaces between the fingers of your left hand. Allow your right hand’s index finger to move in and out and up and down, going from the thumb of the left hand all the way along to the little finger. It is a simple physical exercise, yet utterly distracting.

“Place your tongue as close as you can to the roof of your mouth behind your upper set of teeth. Imagine there is a tiny droplet of edible oil between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and hold that droplet there for around half a minute. This works like a guided visualisation, to distract from any feelings of panic.

“Imagine the space inside your nostrils, and notice how your breath passes through this space – first on the way in, when you breathe in, and then on the way out when you breathe out. Get a sense of how the breath flows through that space. Do so for about a minute, to disengage from any overwhelming thoughts.”
Peter Wright, mindfulness expert


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