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Exams are always going to be tough. People struggle at different points of the process. Sometimes people are stressed out for the whole year, sometimes a week before the exam. In my case, I am fine until about 10 seconds after the examiner says “you may begin” at which point any one of two things can happen: I’ll either get my head down and crack on, looking up to see time is moving at a sensible pace and I am making progress, or I’ll find my brain has turned into cotton wool and start to feel myself shutting down.
The latter is awful and over the years I have identified various coping mechanisms for when I am inside the exam room. The most important one is spending as much time as possible with practice papers so that I have no surprises when I get inside. There is nothing worse than looking at your paper and internally screaming “when the f**k did this end up on the syllabus?!”
Besides practice papers, there are a few items that remain in my exam survival kit and ensure that if the crisis scenario happens I am ready. I share them below with links to where you can purchase them.
1. Rescue Remedy
I never actually understood what the purpose of Rescue Remedy was before I started university. I had seen some people use it but just thought it was a placebo, meaning that it only helped people feel better when they were stressed and didn’t actually do anything. Fast forward to my first ever university exam and, coincidentally, the first time scenario two (where my brain turns to cotton wool) occurred. A really kind friend had offered me her Rescue Remedy chewing gum before the exam and when I got cotton-brain I just grabbed a piece and started chewing. Call it placebo if you wish, but it worked. I ended up getting a First in that paper as well!
For the rest of my exams, I didn’t have any rescue remedy and sadly the cotton wool brain-effect cost me some marks in some (not all) of my undergrad papers. When it came to the GDL though I was not going to be caught slipping again so I invested in some Rescue Remedy and wow. Heart palpitations and all your girl managed to stave off the cotton-brain and finesse two Distinctions and an overall Commendation. I just put a drop on my tongue when I felt like I needed to relax and focus and I held myself together. It was particularly helpful when GDL exam fatigue started to set in and I was basically a zombie between papers. Try it out and see if it works for you. Click here to purchase on Amazon.
From the website:
The system of plant and flower-based essences was developed in the 1930s by Dr Edward Bach, a physician and homeopath who was convinced that emotional wellbeing was key to overall health. He spent many years exploring the use of flowers and plants to develop his simple gentle system of 38 flower essences, setting up The Bach Centre in Oxfordshire, England where we continue to prepare the essences exactly as he did. (Read more)
2. A savoury snack
I know that people tend to have sweets with them in an exam but I try to avoid sugar when I am really stressed. Instead I prefer something savoury because it reminds me of calmer times sat at my study desk revising and eating something tasty. Obviously you should do your best to avoid popcorn, crisps or anything that is going to make everyone in the room want to kill you. I like to bring in a panini or a sandwich and maybe something that is in bite-size pieces. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t bring a whole picnic in there and you should definitely eat properly before the exam. This is just to calm yourself down and works wonders if you are a study eater like myself.
3. Ear plugs
I absolutely detest having to sit exams in those huge halls where you can hear everyone’s paper rustling or, like on the GDL, the clicks of peoples’ keyboards. I found earplugs to be a blessing when I sat my GDL exams. They kept me in my own world and focused on my own work. We all know that feeling when you get the sense that people have been typing more than you or have advanced further in the paper. Comparison is the thief of joy so plug in, check out and crack on with your exam. A link to the earplugs that I use is here.
This is going to sound obvious, but you need to have water in your exams. Read: water not coffee or Redbull. You do not want to be twitching in your exam or bursting for the toilet every five minutes by consuming a load of caffeine. It’s important to stay hydrated and it helps you work better. Plus in my case, cotton-brain is usually accompanied by cotton-mouth and I like to take a sip of water to feel more comfortable. Also, pro-tip: if you’re about to cry in an exam a huge gulp of water should do the trick.
5. A positive talisman
Having something to hold and channel positive energy through worked really well for me during GDL exams. To each their own, but in my case I had these awesome badges from an independent illustrator that I picked up in Camden Market. I pinned one to myself and kept another in my pencil case. I just thought that they were adorable and really represented my personality. Whatever you choose as your positive talisman, make it small enough to fit in your hand and discreet so it isn’t distracting whilst you’re in the exam.
What goes into your exam survival kit is up to you but my main piece of advice is to ensure that you have everything you need to take care of yourself in the exam. Try out using these items when you are revising and this might help you get used to them before the exam. Good luck, you’ll do great.
Until next time,