Exam survival guide

Exam survival guide

exam survival guide

Tips and tricks to get through exam season!

Exam season is quite a stressful time for student (and mom!). Here are some helpful tips to help you through it.


Learning hacks

Stress associated with studying can be reduced through support from a variety of sources: building ourselves emotionally through support from friends and family, taking time to meditate and being conscious of creating a supportive inner dialogue which constantly encourages you.  Getting your body moving and keeping it healthy as well as asking for help whether academic or emotional, are as important as the efforts that you put into your studies.

Izi Maloyi, Student Counsellor at Boston City Campus & Business School provides the following tips for effective studying:

  1. Study the way you are examined: if your exam requires solving problems or writing essays make sure you can answer those types of questions under time pressure.
  2. Create exam type conditions: set your timer, and complete past exam papers. See websites that provide free exam papers and answer memos.
  3. Set daily and weekly study goals that are realistic and achievable. Break your learning down into topics and chapters.
  4. A great way to memorise your academic notes is by teaching someone else. Create a study group, learn with a classmate or even get a family member as a stand-in!
  5. Do not underestimate the power of great sleep! Avoid changing your sleep patterns during exams; you need at least 7–8 hours sleep a day. Missing out on sleep not only affects your mood, but it also reduces your brain’s capacity to function effectively.
  6. Eat a balanced diet: avoid foods that contain caffeine and sugar. These two products mess with your energy and concentration levels.
  7. Exercise is essential!! Vegging out feels good but for physical stress relief and to keep your body feeling strong, you need to move. Go for a brisk walk with a friend or a brief run around your block. The most important advice from the research carried out in the past few years is the simple fact that an hour of daily exercise may be the most important single factor to maintaining a healthy mind and body.
  8. Relaxation is essential too. Call a friend, yes that old-fashioned voice call! Friendship lowers stress levels.
  9. Avoid watching YouTube videos, series or TV after studying. Research shows TV interrupts the transfer of learned information into the long-term memory.
  10. Quality versus quantity: focus on the quality of the study you are doing rather than how much you do. Staring at a page full of highlighted words is not as effective as working with someone who asks you questions that you need to answer.

What to eat during exam time


Izi provides a few extra tips regarding your diet:

  • Breakfast really is the most important meal as it fuels both your body and mind well into the day.  A cup of coffee does not equal breakfast. Protein is brain food – eat an egg, or a banana with peanut butter.
  • Water is the best drink! Keep a bottle on your study desk. Slice in some lemon or cucumber to give it some taste and make it attractive – it helps to motivate you to drink it!
  • Before an exam, go for protein foods over carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates turn to sugars and burn out of your system, leaving you with a sugar low.

“While exams, results, job and other pressures can add extra pressure in your life – remember that there is nothing more important than you,” says Maloyi.

“There will always be a plan B.  Even if you can’t see it, a friend, family member, colleague, fellow student, manager or lecturer can help you find a solution. Strength is asking for help, and strength is creating new pathways when plan A didn’t work out. Never give up. Be your own hero,” concludes Maloyi.

How to manage stress during exam time

For learners and students, not to mention their parents, exam time is usually accompanied by anxiety and stress. Whilst some stress can be beneficial in creating motivation and focus, unmanaged or high levels of stress can be counterproductive and potentially affect one’s mental well-being.

“Stress around exam time often stems not only from the work to be learned and the actual taking of the exam, but also from uncertainties about the results and possible consequences thereof,” says Megan Hosking, a social worker and psychiatric intake clinician at Akeso psychiatric hospitals.

Each year there are tragic reports of learners taking their own lives around or after exam time, perhaps triggered by fear of failure or disappointing results. “It is devastating to think of young people feeling so pressured that they cannot see any future for themselves,” she reflects.

“Our message to anyone who feels as though stress, including exam stress, is getting the better of them, is that your well-being is the most important aspect to focus on. If you find that you are struggling to cope, help is available.”

Hosking gives the following tips for managing exam stress:

Start preparing early and make time for relaxation

  • According to Hosking, preparation is key to managing exam stress. “Allowing sufficient time to prepare for the exams by starting to study well in advance can be helpful as it minimises time pressures, which often add to the other stress factors around this time,” Hosking notes.
  • “There are many approaches to studying for exams, and it may take some time to identify which study method suits you best. Once you have found an effective study method, stick to it and put in the time required to cover all the necessary material.”
  • It is equally important to allow adequate time for rest and relaxation in the run up to exams.
  • “Making time for enjoyable activities can help you to maintain a healthier perspective. Plan your time to allow for much-needed breaks, as this will help to ensure that the time spent studying is optimised.”

Final exam preparations

  • “Going through past exam papers or practice papers can be helpful for identifying any gaps in your knowledge and understanding of a subject, and can help manage pre-exam nerves,” she adds.
  • “In the days leading up to the exam, make sure you know the exam times, venues, procedures and requirements, and plan so that you will arrive well before the start time to avoid unnecessary worry. Check which items you are permitted to take with you into the exam room.”
  • She says that physical activity, whether a walk outside, yoga, time in the gym, or some other form of exercise, can be extremely helpful for relieving stress.

Tips for parents and caregivers


  • “Common signs of stress and anxiety include irritability, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and complaints about headaches, stomach aches or other physical pains. Children may also report difficulty concentrating or you may notice mood changes in your child.
  • “It is well worth having open conversations with your child about coping mechanisms for when they feel stressed or anxious, and this will help the child to feel supported,” Hosking advises.
  • Support your child year-round in their studies, encouraging them to do regular revision and to stay up to date with their work. Leading up to test or exam time, you can also help by having discussions with your child about how they are feeling, reminding them to take breaks from studying, and providing supportive advice.
  • “While it is understandable that parents wish to motivate their children to put their best efforts into exam preparations, putting too much emphasis on the importance of exams can cause undue anxiety. Remind your child that exams are only one part of their education and that the results are not the only thing that matters – and especially that their well-being is of paramount importance.”
  • Hosking says that because stress tends to be associated with a specific event, such as exams, one, therefore, expects stress levels to reduce when the event has passed. “However, if stress persists, or feels unmanageable every time you are faced with tests, exams or deadlines, it is recommended that you consult a professional, such as a psychologist, to assist with developing coping mechanisms, time management skills and building resilience,” she concludes.

In the event of a psychological crisis, assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the Akeso emergency helpline on 0861 435 787.

Joni van der Merwe

About Joni van der Merwe

Your Family’s Digital editor. Avid retweeter. When I’m not scrolling Instagram you’ll find me in my garden. Keen on DIY and I don’t believe there’s anything that can’t be fixed with some chalk paint.


Send this to a friend