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The Four Horsemen of Exam Success

The Four Horsemen of Exam Success

It’s exam time! All the hard work and preparation is finally coming to an end. The only thing left to do is to perform well on the day. But how can you do that? Well, I present to you, the four horsemen of exam success.


1) Sleep

It’s long been established that we need around 7-8 hours of sleep a night, but equally important is getting good quality, refreshing sleep. Unfortunately for those who are stressed about their exams, this can be difficult to achieve.

But what causes poor sleep? Number 1 in young people is phones/laptops at night time. Light, whether natural or artificial, causes the body to produce less melatonin. This is useful in the daytime, as it helps to keep us awake, but at night, melatonin levels are supposed to naturally rise to help us sleep. Staring at bright screens tricks our mind into thinking its daytime, which interrupts the sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult for our minds to switch off when required.

Solution? No phones after 8.

2) Breathe

When we get stressed our body releases cortisol, and we go into fight or flight mode which makes it very difficult to perform cognitive tasks.

One way we can control this is through the practice of “box breathing”; a technique used in the military to help calm nerves before battle. Inhale through the nose and count to 4 in your head. Hold the breath for 4. Exhale through the mouth for 4. Hold for 4.

Repeat this process for around 5 minutes or until the anxiety has subsided.

3) Eat

You may not feel like eating the morning of the exam, due to nerves, but you need food to fuel your mind. Plus, if your mental focus is on hunger, how can you possibly focus on the exam?

There’s a lot of information out there about what foods are best for exam success, but the general consensus seems to be that a breakfast rich in protein and fat, is best for optimum performance.

Things like salmon, eggs, walnuts, blueberries, these will all get your mind in tip top shape to smash those exams. The key thing is not to overload on sugar or processed that’s going to cause a spike in blood sugar levels and leave you feeling tired and foggy.

4) Acceptance

Young people tend to have a massive fear of failure, which is completely understandable, but this fear can overwhelm them and cause them to perform badly on the day.

Seneca, a prominent Roman Stoic, believed that if we practice “negative visualisation”, the act of contemplating bad things happening, we decrease the impact they can have on us, when despite our best efforts, they do happen.

No one wants to fail their exams, but if you really think about it, what would happen if you did? Children often have an unrealistic vision of what will happen to them if they fail their exams. Their family immediately stops loving them, they never get into the university they want, and they’re doomed to a life on the streets selling hand-made bracelets for money!

But obviously that’s not realistic. The reality is, they’ll be disappointed for a bit, then figure out an alternative path to get to where they want to go. It’s not the end of the world if they do badly in their exams, and if they go into the exam with that knowledge, it will relieve some of the pressure that might potentially cause them to perform poorly academically.

Best of luck class of 2018!!

Dan Licence

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