- 25 March 2019
- 15 min read
How to revise effectively and manage your stress levels
Claire shares her tips for revising effectively and managing your stress levels, as exam season approaches.
So if you don’t know who I am, my name is Claire Carmicheal, I’m a third-year nursing student - adult field - and this vlog is all about dealing with emotions and exam stress.
We all get it; I’m the most positive person in the world and I get it. If I can get it, absolutely anyone can get it.
So, I’m here to hopefully help you out and give you some of my tips and advice and what I do to manage those times, and hopefully, it will be really beneficial.
Tips for revision
Know your exam schedule
Tip number one - you obviously need to know your exam date!
Usually, your university, depending on the university that you go to, they will either give you the dates, ours doesn’t, or they will give you the week of the exam date, for example, ‘week beginning of the 8th of April’, which is our next exam.
They’ll give you the date and time nearer the time.
So know your exam date or how many weeks you’ve got to revise, or if it’s an assignment then know how many weeks you’ve got to submit the assignment.
I think having that date in your head means you can organise your time better.
Don’t cram revision
Tip number two - don’t over-revise.
I did this last year in my second year, I found myself over-revising every single day.
I was so obsessed with revision and it got to a point, I think it was two weeks before my exam, where I physically couldn’t revise anymore.
It was stressing me out just looking at it and I physically couldn’t do it.
I just thought ‘I can’t do this anymore’, and for the two weeks before the exam, I just didn’t revise.
That’s really important, you need to sort of manage it in small sections.
You can’t just overload it all at once because that’s not going to help your anxiety levels at all - it didn’t help mine!
Just make sure you revise sensibly, if that makes sense.
Tip number three - think smart, so give yourself smart goals.
When I do this, I think ‘okay, what do I need to learn?’.
There’s so much you need to learn and you need to break it down.
Say one day you think ‘okay, I really want to understand how the respiratory system works’; maybe make some flashcards, make some bullet points, watch some YouTube videos, make some diagrams - whatever is going to help you remember.
Take that on board, do it, and then once you’ve completed a section or a flashcard or a little small goal you’re gonna achieve - and it can be anything - but once you’ve achieved that goal give yourself a reward!
I know I love the motivation and I love rewards, I always think a cup of tea and a biscuit or chocolate or a yoghurt or a new top - that’s a big one for after I’ve completed the exam, I get a new item of clothing or something like that.
But this is the last exam so I need to think of something, I need to give myself a reward for this.
But you know, something small, for example when I’m revising I get really hungry so I tell myself that I’ll do this section of revision, and when it’s done I’ll reward myself with a really good sandwich or a really good salad, or some pasta and have a cup of tea.
Things like that, just something that’s going to motivate you to do the work and get it done.
That’s just what I do, it might not work for everybody but just give yourself a timeframe, a goal and give yourself a reward.
It will really motivate you!
I saw a post online where someone had posted a photo of their revision book, and between each section, there was a chocolate bar so once they completed a section they got to eat some chocolate!
I haven’t done that myself yet but now I’ve reminded myself of it, I’m going to use this technique.
But if you don’t eat chocolate or if you’ve got allergies like dairy and nuts, then maybe it’s not the best for you!
Tip number four - use every part of your brain
So once you’ve planned and managed your time, you achieved your goal and you’ve got your reward and motivation, my next tip for you is to use every lobe of your brain.
This is a tip I was given in my first year by an amazing lecturer, and he was so right.
Use every lobe of the brain.
What I mean by this is you have to write things out, you have to speak things out, find someone to tell the information to- if you’ve got kids, this is brilliant.
One of my friends told me how she teaches her kids when she’s revising, and it’s really helped her remember it all by telling it to somebody else, which is my plan for this one to hopefully help me remember.
So if you’ve got a family member, if you’ve got a dog, cat, animal, teddy bear - something or someone that you can teach, anything that you can speak to and teach - do it!
So you want to write it out, speak it out, visualise it (so watch YouTube videos, draw diagrams, use colour as colour is really effective).
I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read somewhere about the use of colour over black ink really helps the memory.
So make sure you’re using colours, but if you don’t find you work well like that, don’t do it.
But it’s all about how you remember things and how you revise, it’s completely individual to each and every person.
The tips that I do might not work for you, so it’s about finding your own balance.
Use your own techniques, use a mixture of different things - don’t just stick to one technique.
When you’re sat in the exam and your mind goes blank, and you think to yourself ‘ugh, I do know this but I can’t think of it’ and this does happen when you’re sat there and you can’t remember.
The theory behind this is if you’ve learnt everything in a variety of ways and using all your lobes, one lobe’s blank and hasn’t got a clue, but the other lobes are going to back it up.
It’s like teamwork - c’mon brain!
Helping each other and rooting for each other and backing each other up, as nurses should be.
If one person doesn’t know something then other nurses are there to help each other.
Probably one of the biggest tips I think, out of all of it, make sure you’re using different techniques to always help you revise.
Use bullet points in your revision
This tip was given to me in year one of nursing again, by an amazing lecturer.
She said to all of us that we shouldn’t write out our revision in long sentences because you’re not going to remember them.
It’s like writing an assignment and trying to remember word for word, you’re not going to do it.
You want to bullet point key points.
It’s going to jog your memory and you can fill in the blanks.
I found that really helpful, I’ve always done bullet points, I’ve always done flowcharts, whenever I’ve done flashcards they’ve always been in bullet points.
It’s so minimal - just the key elements so that it jogs my memory.
As long as you’ve got the key points in bullet points, you’re going to be alright!
For more tips on revision and advice on your exams and assignments, read Chloe's blog - how to study and prepare for nursing exams
Tips for stress management
Take time out for yourself
So if you’re feeling really anxious and stressed, make sure you take some time out!
We often forget to.
Nursing is actually really isolating without you even realising it, and sometimes you can feel alone and that’s going to add to your stress and anxiety.
It’s really important to grab your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend, all of your friends, family members, your best friends - grab somebody and go out and enjoy yourself.
Relax, completely switch off; don’t talk about exams, don’t talk about revision, don’t talk about assignments, don’t talk about workload.
It’s really hard to do that but you need a night or a day where you just switch off.
Literally, just completely free your mind, enjoy that moment with your friends and just have a laugh.
You’re going to feel so much better for it.
Meditation can be beneficial
If you’re feeling really stressed and anxious, this might not work for everybody and I know not everybody agrees with this so please don’t shoot me for this, but I find it really beneficial to just take 20 minutes out of my day and do some meditation.
It doesn’t have to be hard, you don’t have to overthink it or anything like that.
To do this just search on YouTube and find a meditation video, meditation music, things like that.
It’s all about finding what you’re going to relax to.
Nature sounds, thunderstorms - whatever you’re really going to relax to and just get focused, recharge yourself, whatever is going to be best for you. Sometimes you can’t focus. If you’ve never done meditation before, the first time you do it you’re not going to be focused.
You’re going to be in and out thinking that you can’t do it, and wondering why everyone raves about meditation when you can’t switch off.
It still happens sometimes, I’ve had it sometimes when you physically can’t switch off, and that’s okay.
The more you practise doing it the better you’re going to be, you’ll be able to switch off, be calm and be blank for 20 minutes, re-energise, and you’re going to feel amazing afterwards.
I feel so calm and it makes me think, what was I stressing about?!
Do something that you enjoy
If you aren’t a meditator, find something you do enjoy doing. Find something that you find really therapeutic.
People do knitting and crochet, the colouring books you can get for mental health and stress/anxiety, writing, for example, blogging or writing poems, singing, dancing.
Anything that you can do to relieve stress and release endorphins. Whatever you find helps you to unwind, do more of it.
Make sure you really take the time out to unwind and then get back on to it, because it is tough and you need that time to relax and recharge.
Eat and drink well
This sounds like a strange one to some people but make sure you are keeping well hydrated and eating really well.
If you’re stressed and suffering from anxiety your immune system can get run down, that’s just the body’s response to stress and anxiety.
You need to make sure you eat well, don’t eat a load of junk food - I know this is hard because I love pizza, I love Chinese, I love takeaway, I love not washing up!!
It’s really easy to do and the added stress of the junk food isn’t going to help your anxiety levels at all - it’s probably going to contribute to your stress and anxiety levels and even depression.
Make sure you’re eating well, make sure you’re cooking healthy, eating salads, eating your vegetables.
Not frying foods and not eating too many chips!
It’s really about balancing it I think, and keep well hydrated because when I’ve been stressed or anxious I forget to drink - it sounds really silly but I forget to drink because I get so focused on everything but myself, you forget these things.
I have to force myself into the kitchen, get some water and a cup of tea, some squash, get some fresh orange juice - anything like that, just to keep hydrated.
I count how many drinks I have in a day now - I’ve got it to about two cups of tea and four pints of water, roughly!
If you’re really dehydrated your mood is going to drop so low.
I’ve felt this, and I’ve thought ‘why am I feeling so low and irritable and horrible like I’m not myself?’ I always notice because my lips go really dry as well and I’ll get a headache - they’re the two main signs for me that I haven’t drunk enough.
I’ll get really sensitive and get a banging headache and wonder what’s happening!
The first thing I think to myself when I feel like this is ‘have I drunk enough today?’ and I realise I’ve not drunk enough. It really does affect my mood completely.
Make sure you are hydrated and eating well, and this will be a massive benefit to you.
It sounds so silly but I promise you it really does help!
Get help if you really need it
If you can’t focus, nothing is working, you can’t take your mind off it, you’re really anxious and you’re getting really down about it because it does happen where nothing will work - no matter how well you eat or drink, no matter how nutritious you are, no matter how many times you go to the gym - if you’re really struggling and you can’t switch off, then please get some help.
Talk to your GP, get some counselling, there are therapeutic sessions you can go to if there’s anything they can suggest it’s really going to help you.
It’s not nice - it’s a really horrible feeling getting stressed about an exam.
You’ll feel like a failure.
Some people keep talking about this imposter syndrome and you will start to feel like that.
You’ll think ‘I’m not a nurse, I’m doubting myself and I don’t think I can do this’, and everyone around you is telling you that you can do it, but you’ll feel like an imposter because you feel like you’re not doing well and you can’t do these things because you’re struggling.
It does happen so much, and you need to recognise it and know you’re struggling.
Get help for it, don’t feel too proud or be too scared or too shy.
Don’t think anyone is going to judge you for asking for help because I think it’s the bravest, the best thing anyone can do is to admit that they’re struggling.
I honestly think it’s one of the most amazing things, and people who can do that - people do it on Twitter all the time, or on Facebook, and they’ll put a status up saying ‘I’m really struggling, mental health is a big problem sometimes’ and it inspires me so much that they got help.
A big shout out to all those people who seek help and speak up when they’re struggling, because they’re amazing.
If you take anything away from these tips, make sure you get help.
Speak to your personal tutor - most universities now have a wellbeing place you can go to, a counsellor that you can go to because universities are recognising that it is stressful for a student, and they need to put something into place to help us.
So make sure you really make use of the services you have because you’re paying for it.
Don’t dismiss it or think that it’s a silly idea or that people will judge you because that’s not the case.
Go and get the help and it will be like a weight that is just lifted off your shoulders, I promise!
Thank you so much for watching and tuning in as always.
I hope I’ve given you some kind of help or advice or anything on managing those stressful times to help you revise.
I hope it helps if you're struggling or anything.
Comment down below or my inbox is always open for anyone that is struggling.
Let me know because we’re all in this together. We should all be helping each other out!