Prepping for a major exam can be one of the most mentally and emotionally taxing events in your life, particularly if you are preparing for graduate admissions tests like the MCAT or studying for the bar exam. During this time many test takers neglect self-care, which can have distractors effects on their mental health, and as result, their test performance. So to help you manage your mental health while prepping for your big exam, whatever it may be, we’ve compiled the 5 best tips that you can actually takeaway and employ.
#1 | Exercise & Movement
This is a simple but effective tip that can be used before any test. Our brains do not function well with low oxygen content, especially those areas of the brain related to memory and learning. Getting up every now and again, giving your eyes a break from the books, and moving around can have immediately noticeable effects on both your ability to take in information and retain it. Movement increases blood circulation and oxygen levels, improving brain function.
This increase in high-oxygen blood boosts activity in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that controls and regulates memory. This is a handy boost when you are trying to retain mass amounts of information pertaining to areas of medical knowledge or legal expertise. Be conscious of your breathing – make sure you aren’t holding your breath anxiously, and try to breathe deeply, slowly, and deliberately. This will make sure you aren’t breathing shallow, tidal breaths that can deprive you of oxygen.
Good activities to boost oxygenation and circulation during your studying include walking, running, yoga, and even dance. Not only will these activities boost your circulation, but it will also give you a moderate dose of some serotonin and endorphins, which will make you feel better and a bit rejuvenated.
#2 | Stay Connected
Stay connected to people who add value to your immediate environment. Studying for any big exam can trigger extreme feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, and even hopelessness. These emotions or states of being can exact a heavy toll on you if you are not proactive in your mental health maintenance.
Frequently people can benefit from speaking with friends, family, or just getting a little exercise. However, there are points where chats with your friends or family can actually have negative effects if you rely too much on the support. So try to strike a balance with your social connections. And luckily, if you need more than a chat with a friend, there are apps and even whole social networks whose express purpose is to connect you with the right mental health professional. You can speak to a professional, often for very reasonable fees, that can help you develop healthy coping techniques.
This is a tip that will be useful not only before your exam, but after as well when your professional work begins. Get a head start on finding your ideal support network and building your health community early. It can let you reap the benefits of mental health for years to come.
#3 | Don’t Sleep On Getting Enough Rest
There is always the bleary-eyed pride in pulling a successful all-nighter and absolutely crushing the test the next day. In some environments, this is not only expected, but even celebrated and glorified. But generally speaking, this actually does more harm than good in the long-term.
When you are studying for ultra-important admission exams like the GMAT, MCAT, or bar exam, you are studying such an enormous volume of information that you really can’t properly review it all in one sitting (or even two, three or four for that matter). So, with that in mind, it makes no sense to waste your last good night of sleep before the most important exam of your life. Use that final night’s sleep as an advantage and get some good rest.
Sleep deprivation will cripple your concentration and cognition. You will find yourself reading and rereading, and still not retaining or fully understanding the material, and you will be distracted by the smallest things, if you can manage to stay awake the whole time.
To get the best possible night’s sleep before your exam, cut out electronic screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and use your digital device’s blue light filter if possible. Make sure your room is as dark as possible and set two alarms. This is a great opportunity to begin getting used to being up and functional by your exam’s scheduled start time.
#4 | Drink Heavily
Water, of course. Your body, and more specifically your brain, is comprised of a high percentage of water, and many people do not realize how important this makes hydration. Even the early stages of being dehydrated can result in impaired brain function. More serious dehydration can result in a throbbing headache that will make any important exam absolute torture.
While you may want to finish off the night with a nice glass of wine, if you are in the midst of preparations for an important exam, you may want to forego the alcohol and have a glass of water instead.
#5 | Pause Every Now and Again
After all your studying, you deserve to give yourself the best chance at passing your exam, and that means stopping once in a while. You know yourself and you know your body’s needs. If you are feeling tired, take a nap. If you’re hungry, stop and go get a bite to eat, even a whole meal if it’s time. Taking the time you need away from your studies can increase your studying effectiveness, and give you a more robust return on your study time investment.
By not taking time away from your studying, you make it easier for your brain to burn out while studying, and at that point, you need a reset like sleeping. Taking a break here and there for a snack, a short walk or even a nap can clear and refresh your mind, making your studying work that much more for you.
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