Summer. A season of wonderful weather and radiant sunshine; idyllic afternoons and ice cream ecstasy; cloudless skies and...exams.
This testing time of year (to employ a crafty pun) seems poorly timed given the glorious outdoor environment it entails. What’s more, exams time can be stressful, anxiety-provoking and tiring – living with a brain tumour certainly doesn’t make this any easier.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though! The exam season, although it might seem like a looming and infinite beast, will be over soon and I’ve got some tips to share to help you get through. These are a few things which I’ve found really helpful when going through my exams. I’m not perfect at them by any means, I certainly don’t manage to do all of these things all the time! However, I aim to get better at them and, most of all, I’m trying to look after myself.
1. Take care of yourself
Without a doubt, this is my absolute top tip. You are the most important person you can look after. Without being kind yourself it’s hard to have the capacity to do what you want to and to care for others.
I know that being kind to yourself can seem like an odd and vague concept, so here are some questions that can help you shape your approach to self-care.
If you’re telling yourself you haven’t worked hard enough, revised for long enough or done well enough, try to pause and think about how you're talking to yourself.
What would you say to support someone else in your situation? If you were speaking to a friend or family member that was living with a brain tumour, would you criticise them as much as you’re criticising yourself?
Perhaps you’d suggest that they’re doing all they can, trying hard, and remind them that just sitting the exams at all is an achievement. You might listen to their worries, acknowledge those feelings are valid, and suggest that rest and relaxation are important too.
You might remind them that, as much as exams might seem to be the be-all-and-end-all, there’s more to life than studying and exam results.
Relaxing and taking time off is essential for any exam prep. This might seem counter-intuitive, especially during exam season, but it’s true – unless you’re well-rested you can’t study effectively.
You might timetable one or two days each week when you do no work and make sure you do things for you. You might do some breathing exercises before bed, or visualise walking into the exam, opening the exam paper and being confronted with a challenging question, which you then work through calmly and methodically.
All of this helps with calmness as well as allowing you to study more effectively when you work.
If you're living with a brain tumour, fatigue can be a grueling, constant presence which makes studying extra difficult. Although fatigue can’t be taken away, there are some approaches which can help to reduce its effects.
Whether you’re an early bird, afternoon person or night owl, figure out when you work best and do your revision then. Try to schedule your day so you can work when you’re feeling most alert.
How much sleep you need is equally unique to you. Figuring this out and scheduling regular bed and wake-up times accordingly can also be a great help. Getting to bed and waking up at a reasonable time for you is a great way to manage fatigue.
If you’re doing these things already and still feeling the fatigue, try not to worry. It's a difficult side-effect to manage and you’re doing brilliantly already.
2. Plan your revision timetables in advance
Revision timetables and tactics are the exam prepper’s best friend.
You could make a timetable of your week and block out days and times when you’re busy with school, social commitments, medical appointments or resting. Then, fill in the gaps with the subjects or areas of study you need to revise for.
A good way to work out what to put in the gaps is to make a list of all your areas of study. Then prioritise what you feel least comfortable with. Timetable more time for your weaker areas, so you can focus on these. Having a list and a plan can make revision feel more manageable.
The list may look daunting at first, but, believe me, that’s entirely normal. Break topics into manageable chunks and be aware that it’s okay not to get though everything – you might only be able to do a little of your list, but it’s doing those priority areas that’s important.
Make sure to schedule in those days off and study breaks too! No one can work all the time, and we all study more effectively when we feel rested.
3. Don't be afraid to ask about exam adjustments
Exam adjustments can be vital support to helping you show off your very best during the exam. It's always worth speaking to your school, college or university about these.
For example, you may:
- be able to write with a computer instead of a pen
- be allowed 25% or 50% extra time in the exam (this is really helpful if your brain tumour causes memory difficulties or affects your cognition)
- have an adjustment to your overall exam mark after the exam.
It’s important to speak to the examining body responsible for your exams about these adjustments to make sure you're able to access the help you deserve. The Joint Council for Qualifications' Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration page is a useful starting point for GCSE, A-level and other school exams.
4. Use study resources
Particularly for GCSE and A-level students, study guides are a super help. Ask your school what exam board you’re studying and have a look in a shop or online for a revision guide for your specific subject and exam board. If you can, try to have a look inside the revision guides to find one that works for you.
For A-level and GCSE, some good publishers include: CGP Books, Oxford University Press, and (for English), York Notes. For GCSE students, BBC Bitesize is also great!
Past paper questions are also a super way to prepare. You can access these via exam board websites, or your school or college may have compilations (you can also find past paper collections online). Doing practice questions helps you learn the content too and, often, the same answers come up in later exams!
Some final advice
Exams aren’t always easy – they can be gruelling and tiring, and managing this is made harder with a brain tumour. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing and, ultimately, things will be fine whatever the results are. These might sound like meaningless words, but exams are just one part of life – they’re certainly not the goal.
Whatever your feelings are during the exam period, they’re valid – acknowledging your own emotions, feeling them, and working out what you can do to take care of yourself is a super skill.
Just doing the exams is the achievement, whatever happens with the results. And, above, all taking care of yourself is the most important thing.