Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The big day: getting ready

The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin (1853, Oil on canvas)

Exam days don't have to be the emotional equivalent of 'Mad Martin's' apocalyptic vision. It's probably much better if they aren't because all that worry is bad for performance, soaking up valuable working memory. At the same time total indifference is unlikely to get your brain fired up for sharp thinking. Instead, you want to aim for a happy medium - a calm tinged with a brooding sense of drama, a restrained excitement, like Turner perhaps.

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth by J.M.W. Turner (1842, Oil on canvas)

So, as requested, here is some advice for preparing for the big day.

Exam days begin the night before with a solid amount of sleep. Read the this paper (the intro at least) out last year if you don't believe me. Doing revision at the expense of sleep is pointless. Set several alarms to get you up for at least 2hrs before the start of the exam. This will give your brain time to warm up and allow you to calmly go about your morning activities.

One of these should be to eat well. Nerves may try to fend off your meal. Ignore them. Your brain is going to make a energy-demanding journey so fuel it up well (see here for more on eating). Also, don't eat too close to an exam otherwise you'll get the unhelpful "post-lunch dip'' (Smith et al., 1991).

Absolutely no new learning should be attempted on the morning of the exam; cramming is a seriously dodgy exercise (Glenn, 2007; Rohrer & Pashler, 2007). Just go over your condensed notes, making sure you focus on arguments first and references second.

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