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Stay healthy during exams

Keeping your body and mind in top form

Written by Andrew Cape and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

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We all know people who were an absolute disaster at doing exams - and now are running hugely successful businesses and are as wealthy as you wish. And the opposite: people who were brilliant at sitting exams, but whom it didn't work out so well for when it got onto the real things of life.

But as things stand, exams are part of the game of life. They're just that: a game. And like any other game, they have their rules and ways that you can learn to do well at them.


In training for any game, the most important thing is practice. Practice, practice, practice. You can know every page of the book, but if you can't get it down on paper within the required time you might as well not have bothered. And as anyone who has ever marked exams will tell you, the most important thing is that you answer the question: the question that is in front of you, not some other one you maybe wish had been there. This also comes with practice.

So, in these final few weeks the most important thing is to do masses and masses of practice papers. That's even more important than endlessly studying up new batches of facts. Exams are about exam technique, about getting very skilful at manipulating the rules of the game. That comes back to practice. Just like any other sport.
It is important that you take study breaks also and don't spend hours studying without a break.


Like any sport there is a nutrition aspect. Strength athletes look for protein to build up their strength. Endurance athletes need complex carbs to get ready for their marathons. And for the exam marathon coming up, you should be looking at special food to build up the power of your brain.

The brain has more fat - good fat - in it than any other part of your body. And it is a very special kind of fat. The important fats for brain functions are the ones called EPA and DHA (to give them their short names). The nearest food source we have to the EPA/DHA fats is the oil of oily fish (herring, mackerel, maybe salmon). Note: this is different from cod liver oil.

That's why the best food in the exam run-up is oily fish. This is one case where it really is worth thinking of a good food supplement. Get a good fish oil supplement; one teaspoon of it a day has as much EPA/DHA in it as six and a half pounds of oily mackerel, and that is more fish than you are likely to eat! This is the stuff of the brain. Other good fats can be found in meat, dairy and coconut oil.

Tempting, as it may seem, don't overdo the caffeine. It only provides a temporary lift. Plus, too much caffeine will just leave you wired. It can also prevent you from sleeping, and you need to sleep well to perform well at your exams.

If you drink alcohol, don't drink until after the exams.


The brain also has its own electricity. How well your brain operates depends on the efficiency with which the neurons communicate with each other: three trillion communications a second. Each one of these brain messages needs three specific B vitamins to happen: B6, B12 and folic acid. That's why the B vitamins are known as the stress vitamins. Because handling stress and good brain function are one and the same thing: stress breeds success.

B vitamins are found in whole grains (brown bread, brown rice) and especially in lightly cooked dark green vegetables.

So it's worth thinking about taking a good strong dose of B vitamin complex, both to handle stress and to up your brain activity. Good luck with the training...Go for it.

Physical activity

Physical activity can be a great stress reliever when you are studying hard. It releases endorphins in the brain and helps you to relax. Even a few minutes of daily activity will help when you are spending all day chained to the books.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can be very useful in the lead up to, and during, exams. They can help when you take a break from studying and also help you get to sleep. Relaxation could include taking a walk, listening to music or doing yoga or Pilates.


It is important to get adequate sleep. Stop studying at least two hours before bed and do something relaxing. If you find sleeping difficult, there are many natural remedies available such as:

  • Sprinkling a couple of drops of lavender or chamomile oil on your pillow.
  • Taking a bath with a few drops of lavender oil in the water.
  • Having some warm milk before bed.
  • Taking certain herbs. Ask at your local health food shop.
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Published Jan­u­ary 21st2013
Last updated July 30th2018
Tags school study exams
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