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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Looking after yourself during the exam period

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    Your study space

    Creating the perfect environment to study in will make it easier to keep procrastination at bay and concentration levels at an all-time high. By taking control and managing your productivity, you will achieve the results you are more than capable of.

    Some students may be taking exams in their room, nearly everyone will use their room for revision. Ensure your study space motivates you and keeps you focussed:

    • Use your desk, rather than your bed, so you separate rest from work thereby making it easier to sleep at night. If you create a space for yourself that you only ever use for work, you might come to associate it with that, and feel more motivated when you’re in it.
    • Keep your desk tidy and organised. Having to wade through lots of mess can make it longer to get things done, even if you’re feeling super motivated. The longer you take frantically searching for your favourite highlighter, the longer it’ll take to finish your work.
    • For those of you who like stationery, now is the time to treat yourself to pens, paper, highlighters, post-it notes and revision cards of all colours of the rainbow. If you’re prone to fidgeting, you may want something to play with, such as a stress ball. 
    • Try and schedule your study time for the morning, and if possible open a window to invite as much natural daylight into the room as you can. As well as brightening up the room, it will keep your brain alert and bring fresh air into the space, thus aiding productivity.  If you prefer to work in the evenings, use a lamp to focus light on your workspace. Remember to consider others who may wish to sleep.
    • Remove distractions. Switch off your mobile phone, sign out of social media on your laptop and turn the TV and radio off. Allow yourself to have designated ‘social media breaks’ every couple of hours to check your accounts, but otherwise avoid it completely.
    • Graze on brain food throughout the day to help you focus on the task at hand; magnesium packed seeds for busting stress, leafy greens to help with sustaining mental focus and blueberries for combating memory loss. 

    For some people, working outside their room can be beneficial, as it means that you have to get dressed and out by a certain time and when you arrive home you can relax and know that you are done for the day. Furthermore, you’re more likely to get into a study routine and stick to it. You also benefit from only carrying the books and notes you need for the day, hence offering you fewer distractions.  You have access to libraries across Cambridge (you can register to use any Department/Faculty Library and the University Library using your University Card). 

    To make the most out of your day, spend 10 minutes each night ticking off what you've done, writing down what still needs to be done, and planning what you’ll need on your desk or in your bag for the following day. This means that when you wake up you can start straight away and don’t spend time faffing about and getting things ready. 

    Study breaks

    Your workload will become significantly more manageable if you break it up. Allocate yourself a time scale to complete each assignment with an incentive for each one, categorised into short-term and long-term. It can be anything from allowing yourself to have a social media break, a tasty snack, to a full day off if you are working ahead of schedule.  

    • Meditate – there are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube or you can use a guided meditation app.
    • Take a walk - download one of these apps to your phone, and use it to help you identify local plants and wildlife. There are lots of lovely walks in and around Cambridge. Check out the Library Wellbeing Walks Playlist.
    • Go for a picnic
    • Tidy up
    • Get moving – organise a 10 minute kitchen disco with your household.
    • Yoga – free online videos or library yoga sessions.
    • Have a nap
    • Take a shower and pamper yourself
    • Mindfulness exercises (see below).
    • Get creative. Draw, paint, write a poem or song lyrics. If you enjoy writing in a journal, try doing this outside. Paint some positivity pebbles to share with your friends.  
    • Watch the stars. Use a stargazing app to help you recognise different stars, or simply enjoy looking at the night sky. Give your eyes time to adjust, as it can take about 20 minutes before you can fully see stars in the dark.
    • Laugh. Watch a couple of clips of your favourite comedian or funny TV show. You could even call a friend who always manages to put a smile on your face.
    • Play a board game with a friend. 
    • Listen to natural sounds. You could use recordings or apps that play birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall.

    However, when taking a break, remember to be courteous to your housemates who may be working to a different schedule. The tutorial office will provide your household with a calendar which you can complete and display so everyone is aware of who has an exam and when.

    Rosemary Murray Library

    The Library has lots of activities for students who want to take a short break from studying (colouring, nail art, jigsaws). There will also be tea, coffee, juice and biscuits at 15:00 every weekday in the basement during Easter Term, monthly craft sessions and Yoga with Annabelle on Fridays at 17.30.

    Find more information and book a spot  (but also feel free to just drop in):

    Murray Edwards Gardens

    From 14 May, the College Gardeners will lead 15 minute Wellbeing Walks around the College gardens at 11:45 every Tuesday morning. Please meet at the entrance to the Library.

    Mindfulness exercises you can try

    If you want to try mindfulness, you don't need any special equipment for the following exercises:

    • Mindful eating. This involves paying attention to the taste, sight and textures of what you eat. Try this when drinking a cup of tea or coffee for example. You could focus on the temperature, how the liquid feels on your tongue, how sweet it tastes or watch the steam that it gives off.
    • Mindful moving, walking or running. While exercising, try focusing on the feeling of your body moving. If you go for a mindful walk, you might notice the breeze against your skin, the feeling of your feet or hands against different textures on the ground or nearby surfaces, and the different smells around you.
    • Body scan. This is where you move your attention slowly through different parts of your body. Start from the top of your head and move all the way down to the end of your toes. You could focus on feelings of warmth, tension, tingling or relaxation of different parts of your body.
    • Mindful colouring and drawing. Rather than trying to draw something in particular, focus on the colours and the sensation of your pencil against the paper. 
    • Mindful meditation. This involves sitting quietly to focus on your breathing, thoughts, sensations in your body or things you can sense around you. Try to bring your attention back to the present if your mind starts to wander. 

    Useful Links

    There are lots of really great organisations offering resources for self-care, including the following:  

    • CALM - a wealth of free resources for calming the body and mind
    • MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION - podcasts on mindfulness, stress and relaxation
    • NHS guides to mental wellbeing
    • The University Library has put together a collection of e-books on wellbeing, including some titles about specific mental health issues. When you click on the link you will need to use your raven login details and click through a couple of permission pages to get through to the list the first time you access it. 
    • The Student Advice Service at Cambridge SU has developed a package of examination resources to support students during and after their exams.  
    • Hear: A free, confidential text message support service run by NHS Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for anyone in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough struggling with their mental health.  Available 24/7.  Text the word HEAR to 85258.
    • Cambridge University video on tips for coping with exam stress.