Wednesday 20 June 2018

Exam day is here - here are six tips to train your brain to cope with pressure

Along with trying to decide on your final college course options, there is also exams to concentrate on! To help make it slightly less overwhelming, the experts share some last-minute tips on getting your brain into gear over the next two weeks

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The experts share some last-minute tips on getting your brain into gear over the next two weeks.

1. Stick with your learning style

"You'll have likely discovered what learning style works best for you by this stage, so it is important to stick with what you are used to when revising for exams," says Dr Eddie Murphy, clinical psychologist, author and mental health expert. "Some people can be kinaesthetic learners, typically processing information by doing something themselves, such as writing.

"Some people are auditory learners, who learn by listening back to recordings; while others are visual learners, studying through mind mapping and using colours. Plan your revision sessions around your dominant learning style."

Kevin Flanagan, author of bestselling book 'Maximum Points, Minimum Panic' and 'Smart! The 5 Step Learning Ladder' advises following the 5-50-10 rule.

"Many of our favourite TV programmes, such as 'Game of Thrones', last around 50 minutes per episode. Why? Because after this length of time, concentration and the ability to recall events and information plummets. Researchers around the world agree that 50 minutes is the optimum time to study in one sitting.

"Study no more than five times a day, for 50 minutes each time and take at least a 10-minute break. It is important to take some time out of studying for yourself and get some exercise."

Regular exercise is important for your health and for concentration levels. But, how much exercise is enough?

"Aim for 30 minutes a day or one hour every two days," says Kevin. "Something which elevates your heartbeat like a brisk run or a cycle."

2. How you approach exams matters

Researchers have found that how you approach something matters almost as much as what you do. Many people may look at studying as a task they must do, rather than an opportunity to learn. Dr Eddie Murphy agrees that being in the right mindset is important for studying smarter and succeeding in exams.

"Sometimes you can't force yourself to be in the right mindset, but there are some practises you can take to help. Avoid catastrophic thinking, for example 'I'll never have enough time to study all this information', instead say 'I may be late studying this information, but since I am doing it now, I will get most of it done'."

3. Log out of distractions

While mobile internet can be useful for some research on topics, the smartphone also brings problems. For example, if you are studying a maths theorem and are constantly being bombarded by Snapchats, Instagram notifications and WhatsApp messages.

"Constant interruptions damages study," says Kevin Flanagan. "If you react to a message or notification on your phone, it can take up to 20 minutes to fully re-focus on your studying. Researchers call this 'Attention Residue'."

Studies have suggested that young people who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to report psychological distress.

"Social media can create a negative headspace and can be distressing," says Dr Murphy. "If there are toxic people online, you need to limit your interaction with them."

Dr Murphy advises leaving your phone in a different room while you are studying.

"You only have about two weeks left before the Leaving Certificate is over, the task now is to focus and avoid getting distracted. Limit your use of social media. There is plenty of time in summer to get back online."

4. Breathe and control your fear

"Experiencing stress, fear and frustration during the Leaving Cert is normal," says Dr Murphy. "It's just about how you control these emotions.

"Abdominal breathing, or deep breathing, is the best tool to conquer stress and help you to relax."

How do you practise abdominal breathing? Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down in. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now, breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose). Take about 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes.

"Practise your abdominal breathing today, rather than right before you enter the exam hall tomorrow. Or, at the weekend when you don't feel as stressed," says Dr Murphy. "This way, you know in advance what it feels like to be in a relaxed state as opposed to an anxious state. You can use your breathing technique effectively in an emergency or when the papers come out."

Some people may have difficulty finding the motivation to practise this alone. If this sounds like you, why not try abdominal breathing with a friend or download an app such as 'Stop, Breathe & Think'. But, only use this phone app when you are taking a break from study!

5. Sleep and learn

"Depriving yourself of sleep is like depriving yourself of oxygen!" says Kevin. "Used properly, sleep can even boost your learning."

Kevin advises following the 8/12 rule - be in bed before 12pm and get a minimum eight hours sleep.

"Every minute after midnight affects the quality of your sleep negatively," says Kevin. "Getting to bed at 4am and sleeping eight hours until midday will not mean you will have a clear head, even though you slept the recommended eight hours!"

Kevin recommends having a hot bath, switching off all electronics and limiting caffeine 3-4 hours before you head to bed.

"And, AVOID doing all-nighters!" he adds. "Sacrificing sleep for study can have disastrous effects, it can hinder information processing for up to four days after!"

6. Remember the big picture

Dr Murphy advises having a broad perspective when it comes to exams and college courses, "I have a background in psychology, and these courses are typically 560 points in the Leaving Cert. People instantly think I got very high points in the Leaving Cert, but I was in fact a second-chance learner.

"There are many ways to get to your dream job or goal if you don't get it first time round. Look at course choices that are linked to the career you want, or which can get you on the ladder to that role. Avoid comparing yourself with others, because you will end up feeling bad about yourself. Your skills and abilities are unique to you."

Irish Independent

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