Survive the exam season

Help for youngsters and uni students to get through the exam season with flying colours

Exam time is nearly upon us and many young people will be feeling the pressure to do well. From university students to GCSE and A-level candidates, it’s a fraught time, and many relatives and loved ones will want to help and support in any way they can. Here are some top tips from the experts to help everyone in the family stay cool, calm and collected.

Focus on a healthy diet

“Studies have linked high-quality nutrient-dense diets to better mental health in children and adults,” explains Dr Emma Derbyshire, a public health nutritionist and an advisor to Equazen (www.equazen.co.uk). “Evidence has also linked an imbalance of omega-3 and 6 with an increased risk of a wide range of issues including depression, poor concentration and memory problems. So, teens and uni students should include oily fish in their diets and, failing that, opt for an evidence-based omega-3 and 6 supplement.”

Fuel up regularly

“Once in the midst of revision, eating and drinking can get pushed aside,” says Dr Emma Derbyshire. “Fuel your revision by drinking water at regular intervals and having iron and omega-rich snacks to hand (nutrients important for cognition). Nuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, walnuts, peanuts, macadamias and hazel nuts are great exam brain foods as they can provide iron and omega-3 fatty acids.”

Be smart with your smart phone

A lot of young people today devote a significant amount of time to their smart phones, but checking Instagram or Facebook last thing at night could be having some serious impact on their sleep quality. “Using these devices before you drop off disrupts your sleeping pattern, increases your heart rate, and impacts on your quality of rest,” says Neil Robinson, a sleep expert with bed brand Sealy’s. “Interestingly, it’s all down to melatonin levels which control ‘sleep/wake’ cycles. The use of phones and computers prevents its production, which results in making it much harder to fall asleep for long periods of time.” Try encouraging your kids to pick up a book or listen to relaxing music instead.

Take some alone time

“When it’s time for exams, or when people are eagerly waiting for their results, tensions and anxiety can be high,” says Laura Little, Learning and Development Manager with CABA (www.caba.org.uk). “This can sometimes result in someone acting out towards others during the exam period. If this is the case, it may be best for those taking exams to seek out some alone time – and for their family members to give them some space so they have time to breathe and decompress after their exams.

To take this to the next level, why not take up yoga? The breathing involved is an excellent way to soothe both the body and mind, and the stretching can ease tired joints and generate endorphins which can help to generate more positive moods. Furthermore, regularly practising yoga and meditation has been linked to increased memory and focus, which makes it an excellent way to combat stress whilst also potentially improving the revision process.”

Avoid napping

“We know it’s tempting during the school holidays and during study breaks, but try to discourage youngsters from napping during the day to enjoy a fuller night’s sleep,” says Neil Robinson. “If they do feel the need to get some shut-eye, make sure it’s limited to just 10-20 minutes.”

Start a rewards fund

“Exam time can be extremely taxing, and often those studying will forget to take time out to reward themselves for all their hard work,” says Laura Little. “Remember, rewards don’t have to wait until after exams! If you or a family member have been working particularly hard in an effort to do fantastically on a test, it may be time to recognise all of that hard work. By starting a rewards fund – which you can generate by adding a small sum of money each time a revision target is hit – you can create a system which facilitates the purchase of ‘small pleasures’ to keep motivation going and morale high.”

Shake it off

“We all know that exercise is key to keeping a healthy body and mind,” says Laura Little. “Exercise of any kind is a great way to work off excess stress and gain positive energy through the generation of feel-good endorphins. If you’re feeling particularly nervous about your exams, or you’re getting stressed on behalf of a family member, it may be time to quite literally ‘run’ away from your negative emotions. Still, cardio isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to exercise. If you aren’t the sporty type, why not try out some more interesting ways to get your blood pumping and your mind away from exams? For example, you could try out pillow fighting to help take out your revision related frustrations – or turn revision into an active game which involves movement and helps to make studying more fun.”

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