You may think you have mastered a subject, but taking an exam is a different thing. Like athletes train for a game, you have to train for an exam. You may know everything you need to know, but what matters is how you can apply this knowledge to the questions. That is why you should practice a lot for exams, so you know what to expect. No exams available? Just ask your professor, who should always give you at least one practice exam.
Stay calm. If you find yourself greatly worried about whether or not you are sufficiently prepared, remember the following. It only makes sense to worry about the things you can control. Like the time you put into learning, in addition to the other items in this blog. Anything you can't control is best let go. It is unnecessary to worry about it. Easier said than done? Well, the ancient Greeks and Romans were already applying this. They were skilled at stoic philosophy, which is the principle of arming yourself with right thoughts and focusing on what you can actually do. If you want to learn more about this stoic philosophy, listen to this podcast with philosopher Miriam van Rijen.
3. Get off that chair!
Exercise is important! If you sit for more than half an hour, your brain activity decreases significantly. In other words, not effective. Therefore, try to move every so often. For example by standing up and repeating in your mind what you have just learned. Chances are you will remember it better.
Staying alert is obviously a thing when deadlines are approaching, stress is mounting and eyes are getting smaller. That's where caffeine comes in! The substance that makes you more alert so you can keep your focus for longer. Perfect for studying! Of course, you can have a cup of coffee every so often, but chewing a gum is even better, especially a chewing gum with caffeine. By chewing, you 1) absorb the caffeine faster, within 5 minutes, and 2) keep your brain more alert through the chewing motion itself. Want to test it?
5. Start at the end
You probably start too late while you do know it's important: proper planning. But where do you start? Just start at the end. This sounds weird, but is actually quite logical. You start at the exam date and determine where you need to be for each week that you count back. Write down your goals for each of these weeks leading up to your exam, put them in your calendar and... stick to them!
6. You pass an exam in bed
You win the Tour de France in bed, a great cyclist once said. The same goes for exams. Of course, you won't win a cycling race by staying in bed all day, but you should make sure you get plenty of rest. A good night's sleep is super important, as well for cognitive performance such as studying. Avoid blue light 2 hours before you go to bed as it suppresses your sense of sleep. Take an evening walk, put away your phone and textbooks and go to sleep early. Afternoon naps of 20 minutes can also do wonders!
7. Pay attention to your breathing
Stress, studying, sitting still - none of this has a positive effect on your breathing. Your breathing may become rushed, shorter, which will make you feel more tired sooner. Take a few minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening to sit on a chair and very deliberately slow down your breathing. Shut yourself off and try to pay attention only to the quiet rhythm of your inhaling and exhaling. You will feel reborn after a few minutes!
Classical music seems to work best for calming down and increasing your concentration. Death metal or hardstyle music may not be optimal for studying, unless you are at your best headbanging course. Maybe something to test for yourself.
9. Internet out
The internet, who didn't grow up with it? Well your ancestors didn't, who were still industrious people that could concentrate. It was also a lot easier without Reddit, Google, Snapchat, or Instagram. Don't fool yourself, and shut yourself off from the internet. At least turn off notifications and don't put your phone in sight or within reach. Otherwise, your thoughts will naturally go their own way and that's usually not your textbook.
Don't take life too seriously is a good remedy to get you through tough situations. Watch a comedy series, or plan an evening at the theater to have a good laugh with your favorite comedian. Laughter relaxes, you forget your worries for a moment. It's very healthy and you will start the next day with a clean slate and you will see that you have more energy. As a side benefit, your creativity gets a boost. And so, you might just find that answer to that question you didn't know in the first place.