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Your exam season sur-THRIVE-al guide

English student Bethan Spacey wearing glasses and a dark top with light polka dots
Bethan Spacey
Third-year English student

07 April 2022

Third-year English student Bethan shares some top tips on how to make this exam season your best ever.

Please note that these tips are not a substitute for support with mental and physical health problems. If you are unwell in any capacity and this has been worsened by exam season, please contact your GP or alternatively your personal tutor for more advice. Find information about King’s wellbeing support via Student Services Online

1. Study smarter

I would say study smart and not hard, but realistically both may be required. Fine-tuning your study skills could have a massive impact on the efficiency of your learning, and consequently, increase your leisure time. I’m going to outline two study techniques that I like.

The Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is a time management method which uses a timer to break work into intervals. These intervals are typically 25 minutes in length, separated by short and long breaks. I like to use Pomofocus to do this because you can adjust the amount of time you set for the intervals, short breaks and long breaks, as well as attributing specific tasks to each interval.

Active recall

Active recall involves a set of study techniques that require actively testing and retrieving information, instead of passively reading it: one example of this would be flash cards. Active recall study techniques have consistently been proved to be the most effective. In one of the most popular studies cited in supporting active recall, they found that students who used active recall were able to remember about 80% of new terms compared to 34% for the control group.


2. Stay hydrated and choose your foods wisely

Research has consistently found that dehydration can affect mood, concentration, recall and other traits associated with study. Make sure to bring a bottle of water with you wherever you choose to set up camp and revise. Bonus tip: I purchased a water bottle with an in-built straw because I realized that I drink more water when I use a straw and it has made a huge difference to my overall hydration.

The type of foods you consume can also affect your brain function! Experts recommend foods like berries, dark chocolate and nuts when studying to give your brain that extra boost.

3. Get enough sleep

As soon as exam season starts, I have found that it is far too easy to let sleep slip out the window. However, a lack of sleep causes losses in attention, logical reasoning and memory recall. There’s only so much you can achieve on a sleep-deprived brain so it’s important to know when to throw in the towel and prioritize rest.

Exercise - main

4. Don’t forget to move

Exam season is often coupled with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, but studies have found that physical activity can strengthen memory, improve concentration, improve mood and increase energy levels. Sitting down for long periods can also be harmful for your health, so movement is fundamental. For instance, research has found that sitting down for several hours is associated with increased blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.

King’s Sport

Offering campus gyms, personal training sessions, award-winning activity programmes and more, King’s Sport has all you need to get started on or step up your fitness journey.

5. Choose your environment

The environment in which you study can have a large impact on the effectiveness of your learning. For example, research on office workers found that productivity positively correlated with increased temperatures. With a drop of just five degrees centigrade the typing rate significantly decreased, alongside an increased error rate of 25%. The takeaway: if you can’t control the temperature of your study environment then choose to study in layers of clothing instead. Similarly, if a room is too hot it has been shown to have adverse effects on productivity, so layers of clothing give you the best opportunity at finding that sweet spot.

The level of light can also have an effect on your ability to study. Bright light exposure activates regions of the brain that promote alertness and improves cognitive performance, so opt for a study space with lots of light.

A London park in summer. People are sitting on the grass and on deckchairs

6. Get outside

Get some sunshine! Vitamin D3 is primarily received through sunlight in the warmer months. Not only is it a key aspect of a healthy immune system, but time spent outside can also improve our mental health and sharpen our cognitive skills. Choose an outside study location, or if this isn’t possible, take study breaks outside – this could also be an opportunity to get some movement in.

7. Use King’s resources

Finally, utilise King’s learning resources! Attend office hours to take advantage of free additional 1:1 support from experts in the field that you are studying. Talk to your personal tutor – they are there to help. And even if you don’t have any specific questions, they could offer you inside advice on module selections, give you career guidance or provide contacts in relevant industries. Use librarians’ wealth of knowledge on popular research; ask for advice on the preeminent texts and thinkers within a certain subject area. Plus, if you’re still struggling to hone your studying methods, refer to King’s Academy for study skills sessions.