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6 ways to cope with a busy exam schedule

6 ways to cope with a busy exam schedule

5 min read
  • Stress management & well-being
  • Study skills & exam prep

Students often place a lot of emphasis on their exam timetable. Will they be nicely spaced out, or will the lottery of life decide that they should all be bunched up (with many on the same day).

This may create stress and frustration for students. So, how can they deal with this? We have put together our top 6 tips on how to cope with a busy exam schedule to pass on to your students. Let’s take a look at what these are…

how to cope with a busy exam schedule

How to cope with a busy exam schedule

1. Accepting the situation

The first and arguably most important step is accepting the situation. To do this, students need to let go of any previous expectations of how they thought their timetable might look like.

Students also need to change what they focus on. In life, we all have three options when it comes to what to focus on:

  1. Things you can’t change
  2. Things you can influence
  3. Things you can control

Focusing on the first group will leave students feeling stressed and frustrated as there is nothing they can do. Therefore, the should try and shift their focus on what they can control. In the case of exams, this includes how well they prepare emotionally for their exam, or the learning strategies they use for studying ahead of the day. This will not only improve their motivation, but also their performance.

2. Becoming an optimist realist

Optimism is the key to success, right? Actually, having blind optimism can be damaging.

This is best illustrated in the Stockdale Paradox, named after Admiral James Stockdale. He was a prisoner of war for 8 years with no release date. When asked how he survived, he said “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end.”

When asked who didn’t survive, he said “Oh, that’s easy – the optimists”. This was because, “they were the ones that said, ‘we’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘we’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.” This blind optimism caused them to “die of a broken heart.”

Stockdale went on to say that “you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be“.

This is why it’s best to be an optimistic realist. For students, this means not dwelling on the previous exam if it went badly, but also not getting too elated if it went well. It means focusing positively on the next challenge they face whilst also working hard throughout.

3. Preparing a good revision timetable

Being well prepared and knowing how to organise their time is key to exam success, but it’s especially important when students have a busy exam schedule.

Within this revision timetable, students should plan to space out their learning. This means having more frequent revision sessions spaced over a larger period of time, rather than cramming it all at once, and this is something you can help them with as their teacher.

Research has shown that spacing is very effective, with those who spaced their learning performing better than those who crammed their revision. The gap to leave between each session depends on how far away the test is – Check out our guide for suggested spacing timings.

It would also be useful for students to include any extracurricular activities they take part in so they can plan around them, as well as leaving gaps to catch up on things they didn’t have the time to do.

4. Scheduling in some ‘you’ time

This tip might seem counterintuitive, but it is very important.

Students might feel like they have to use all the time they have to do as much studying as possible, but they need regular “me” time to meet up with friends, engage in hobbies, or simply relax.

One reason why this is so important is because this period can be very stressful. Although a little stress is beneficial, too much can be damaging and harm students’ performance and ability to concentrate.

One way for students to do this is by adding it to their study schedule. Not only will this ensure they have enough time to study, it will also encourage them to commit to taking breaks, and help them separate studying time and activities they enjoy. This way, they’ll get back to their revision feeling rejuvenated, and have something to look forward to during the next session.

We will teach your students to thrive under pressure with key stress management skills. Ideal in the lead up to exams.

5. Prioritising their sleep schedule

When having a lot of exams in a row, students often feel tempted to prioritise late-night studying over their sleep. However, this can be very damaging.

In a study, researchers found that people who were sleep-deprived found it harder to remember things compared to those who got a good night’s sleep. It can also affect your concentration levels, with studies finding that having enough sleep helps improve your attention and alertness.

In fact, another study found that students who prioritised getting 8 hours of sleep per night during exams outperformed their peers who didn’t. That being said, there is a good chance students actually need even considerably more than this.

As exam fatigue can be physically and emotionally draining, prioritising sleep (which is important all year round) takes on even more significance during the busy exam period.

6. Eating breakfast

One final yet very important point for your students is to make sure they keep having breakfast every morning. Many students skip breakfast on a regular basis, but even more could be tempted to do so during exams as they feel they don’t have enough time.

This can have an impact on their academic performance. In one study, researchers found that students who ate breakfast were twice as likely to gain above average scores in their tests compared to those who skipped breakfast. A reason for this is that breakfast helps students stay alert and have improved memory throughout the day.

For students that have numerous exams on the same day, fuelling their concentration for the latter stages can be key. Eating breakfast can help ensure this.

Final thoughts

A busy exam timetable can be intimidating and a major cause of stress. Thankfully, there are plenty of things students can do to make this more manageable – and you can help them put these good habits in place. This should allow them to perform the best they can during a time when it really matters.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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