Exam prep during COVID: Tips from brain science

Posted by Kristal Lau - October 24th 2020

It’s been an unusual learning year for teens and young people with a whole bunch of new demands. From the screen fatigue of remote learning and multiple re-returns to the classroom, these are tough changes to have to navigate for the first time.

Now with the rapidly looming exam season, it would be understandable to feel overwhelmed by mounting pressure and stress. Tests are usually hard enough, let alone getting through them during a pandemic!

Here are some simple brain boosting tips for this study season.

Free up some headspace. It’s hard to focus on studying well if there’s a cloud of worried thoughts on our minds and a ton of tension in our body. Research tells us that getting moving with some exercise or practising deep breathing (try the ReachOut Breathe app) are both great ways to bust our stress for a clear head.  

**Brain maintenance happens during sleep. ** The brain does its maintenance and filing during sleep. Sleep is really important for concentration and learning for school or study during the day too. Teenagers need more sleep than adults. If you need some ideas for better sleep try making a power down routine for the evening, keep devices out of the bedroom, go to bed and get up at the same time every night and get some outside exercise every day.

Mistakes are ok! Exam time can bring pressure to do more, to be better, or to try harder. But in reality, learning has its ups and downs and things don’t always go to plan. Remember, everyone learns differently and rather than giving yourself a hard time, see if you can be kind to yourself by saying “I’m still learning how I learn”. Most of us perform better when we cheer ourselves on instead of telling ourselves off.

Make a plan Getting started is easier with a plan. Create a study plan for the week that covers what you need to do. Break it down day by day. Each day, start by making a plan for the morning and afternoon. Break the morning down into study and break times that work for you. For example try 45 minute study blocks with a 15 minute break to refuel or exercise. If you have trouble getting started, make a checklist of 2-3 short tasks to focus on first.

Take it step-by-step How do we get to the top of a mountain? One step at a time. Research shows that we study best when we focus on one thing at a time and work in short bursts. Try choosing a specific task/learning area to focus on, breaking it into small manageable chunks, and working on each chunk at a time. Don’t forget to reward yourself each time you finish a chunk. Regular feelings of success help us get to the finish line!

(image by Mat Ragland on Unsplash)

Kristal Lau is a psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist at Launch Psychology. This year she has been focussed on helping young learners and their families better understand their learning needs and how to meet them, even in a pandemic! To find out more about Kristal visit launchpsychology.com.au