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Taking Exams With a Mental Illness - The Basics

April 29, 2018

Many of us every year take exams while suffering from a mental illness - and it can be excruciatingly stressful. So I've made a lil' list of tips on how to survive preparing for your exams!

Tip 1 - Study in "chunks"


I am very guilty of forcing myself to study for hours on end, and getting frustrated when nothing seemed to be going in to my brain. This then made me study more, and it became a vicious cycle. It's best to study in small and manageable chunks, as opposed to making yourself sit for a prolonged period of time. 


When I study, I will sit for around half an hour and then take a short break. If I study for any longer, I notice that I begin to become demotivated and disinterested - this is when you really need to stop. 


Tip 2 - Plan your weeks


Another thing I like to do is to plan my studies. For example, I will use a weekly planner to plan in all of my studies, so I know exactly what I am doing and when. This way you can "prepare" yourself to sit down and study. It also takes away the stress of sitting down last minute and studying - you're organised, know what you're doing, and will find it easier to revise.


An hour of each subject you are studying (if you are studying A-levels) per day will suffice on a week day if possible. I normally then study for an hour and a half per subject on the weekend.


Tip 3 - Use nice stationary


I find that using nice stationary helps me look forward to revising. It doesn't have to be super expensive stationary - just some nice gel pens and notebooks will suffice. It's so much nicer than using plain old black pens and a boring notepad!


It makes the whole experience of studying feel a little more “luxurious”. 


Tip 4 - Reward yourself


For every bit of studying you do - reward yourself. Even if it's some chocolate or another break, it will give you a little bit of motivation to keep going.


I like to do this when I'm really not in the mood to study. I'll say to myself "if I can do thirty minutes studying, I'll give in and have a piece of cake as a treat". It sounds stupid but it works. It's a bit like puppies, they sit, lie down etc as they know they'll get a reward (not that we're dogs though haha! 😉).


Tip 5 - Study in a relaxing environment


Many people study in silence but I can't do that. I have to have music or the TV on in the background otherwise my brain starts wandering. Always study in an environment that you feel comfortable in. Your surroundings have a big impact of how well you study whether you realise it or not. 


They do say not to study in your bedroom, as it should be for sleep and sex only, however I enjoy studying in my bedroom as it's my own space and I can relax fully compared to if I sat in the kitchen on the lounge.


Also, grab yourself your favourite drink (non-alcoholic of course) and put on some comfortable clothes. Ensuring that your study environment is as relaxing and comfortable as possible is a must. 


Tip 6 - Self-care is super important at this point


Revising for exams can take it out of people. It's easy to forget to look after yourself and solely focus on your studying. DON'T DO THIS.


Taking some time to run a bath, watch a film, read a book - whatever you enjoy doing for self-care - is so incredibly important. What good will you be if you are completely burnt out, tired and stressed? 


However, self care isn’t just important while you’re revising - it’s even more important in the run up and during your exams. Exams are stressful enough without feeling run-down. Always give yourself some time to recooperate and recharge. 


Tip 7 - Have a day off


Every week, have a day where you don't revise. This may seem absolutely crazy as every waking hour should be dedicated to revising, right?




As I said in Tip 6, you are no good super tired and stressed. Take a day off every week, go out, see friends, forget about your studying, be human, sleep all day, watch TV all day - do whatever you want. Taking a day out for yourself will do you the world of good. You'll feel less stressed, and remind yourself that your life isn't just revising.


Tip 8 - Get some good sleep


I know for some this is easier said than done, but a good nights sleep makes everything a little bit better. It gives your body a chance to fully rest and recharge. Understandably this is difficult during such a stressful and busy time, however practicing a bit of self care beforehand such as having a relaxing, hot bath, putting on some clean pyjamas and watching TV in bed will get your body ready for a good sleep. 


The night before an exam, many people seem to think that studying all night is the best idea. It’s not. Studying up until around 8pm, then put the books away, relax yourself and try and get an early night ready for your exam the following day. This is paramount if you have a morning exam. If you have an exam the following afternoon, you can put in a bit of extra revision the morning of the exam. 


Tip 9 - Make sure you eat


It can be so easy during stressful times to not eat, without adding on a mental illness too. However, it is incredibly important to eat to keep your body and brain healthy. Your body and mind will already be under extra pressure from revising/exams, so try not to put it under any more. 


I myself know how hard it is to eat when you don’t want to, but eat small. A piece of toast, a bit of soup, a sandwich - anything that will give your body some energy and keep your mood from plummeting. I get really agitated and moody when I don’t eat, so I always try and make sure I eat regularly to prevent myself feeling worse than I may already do. 

This brings me to the end of my guide on how to cope with exam stress. Do you deal with your stress in any ways that I haven't put in my post? If so, let me know!



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