What to do the night before an exam

Group of students studying

How you spend the night before an important exam can greatly impact how well you perform the following day. To ensure you achieve your full potential, we've consulted with Dr Petra Skeffington for some pre-exam tips.

Stick to your routine

Crucial for maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle, sticking to a routine during exam periods can help you achieve your academic potential, in addition to instil good habits which you can take to other stages of your life.

On the night before a major exam, it's important to stick to the routine you've already established. Eat dinner at the same time as usual, go to bed when you normally would, and don't miss out on watching your favourite show if it's on!

According to Dr Petra Skeffington, Associate Professor at Murdoch University and clinical psychologist, sticking to your plan will allow you to perform better.

"Building and sticking to a good routine will protect your physical and emotional health under pressure."

Get a good night's sleep

We all know how much harder it is to concentrate and retain information when we're tired. While you might be tempted to pull all-nighter to cram for your exam tomorrow, it may have the opposite effect. Research has shown that memory and learning are consolidated during sleep, particularly in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase.

To ensure you perform well on exam day, Dr Skeffington recommends getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep.

"The amount of sleep you need may be different from your friends; however, most of us need between 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. If you’re getting less than this, it may impact your physical and emotional health."

To ensure you aren’t kept awake mulling over tomorrow's exam, avoid using your phone, laptop or tablet about 30 minutes before you head to bed. This is because most of these screens use blue light, which suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the hormone which makes us sleepy

Have a good meal

Constant studying means you're working your poor brain pretty hard – so make sure you feed it! Dr Skeffington insists diet is an essential part of achieving academic success.

"What you eat fuels your brain, so if you're not eating a balanced diet you can't produce the necessary neurotransmitters for your brain and mind to function well.

"Eating a balanced diet helps with mental energy, emotion regulation, concentration and memory. In the lead-up to exams, make sure you are eating plenty of fresh foods and avoiding processed 'junk' foods. This will help you study for longer, remember more, think clearly and ultimately perform better on exam day."

Some brain-friendly foods we recommend for dinner include fish and a selection of greens including kale, chard, spinach and broccoli, and on the morning of your exam eggs, peanut butter and fresh fruit.

Hydrate for the next day

Dr Skeffington confirms drinking water and brain functions are directly linked, which means it's no surprise that not drinking enough water can cause problems with focusing, forgetfulness, mental fatigue, headaches, and sleep problems.

"Mild dehydration can change your mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly. Keep a bottle of water nearby when studying, to ensure you are drinking enough."

Red Bull won't give you wings and it won't help you study either – energy drinks are much more likely to increase nerves on exam day and leave you feeling worn-out once the initial energy burst is over. Instead, aim to drink 8 to 10 glasses (2 litres) of water before and on the day of your exam. 

Fit in some cardio 

Not only will exercising help your physical well-being, it can also help your exam preparation and relieve feelings of stress.

Fitting in some cardio exercise on the evening before your exam will get blood, oxygen, and nutrients pumping to your brain, improving your memory and problem solving skills.

It doesn't mean having to go to the gym either – something as simple as walking the dog or a quick swim at the beach is enough.

Get organised

Have your pens, pencils and everything else you may need (calculator, ruler, notes, etc.) for your exam ready to go the night before.

Make sure you set an alarm, allowing yourself plenty of time for a big, healthy breakfast, and to get to your exam destination with ample time.

Don't stress yourself out

Although it may seem like it right now, exams are not the be-all and end-all. 

Exams don’t define you as a person and even if the worst occurs – there are many different pathways to achieve your goals, including enabling courses which can qualify you for a multitude of university courses.

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Posted on:

16 Oct 2023

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