Studying for exams can be stressful and create some anxiety. Check out our top 5 tips to prevent study burnout
As a fresh crop of year 11s and 12s approach exams, VCE anxiety and pressure is rising. VCE worry can sometimes begin in early high school. By the time it nears closer, picking subjects and future plans can take up a lot of brain space and energy. And then comes the added effort of paying attention within classes while completing what feels like an endless stream of homework and SACs, and preparing for exams. It can get downright exhausting.
We’ve all heard that ATAR scores alone do not determine the rest of your future (right?). Yes, it’s true. But it can be hard to believe until you’re through to the other side.
Whether you’re organised or feel like there’s room for improvement, it’s important to schedule rest and relaxation into each day.
Sounds easy, but how do I know I’ve got the right balance?
- First, reflect on your study habits, e.g. How many days/weeks prior do I start preparing for a SAC? How much time do I spend studying?
- Compare this to feedback from trusted teachers, friends and family members.
- If there are any inconsistencies, it may be necessary to explore why this may be occurring.
You: I’ve been making many careless mistakes, so I must not be working hard enough.
Trusted family member: I saw you fall asleep studying twice this week, you’re studying non-stop.
This scenario indicates you may need to revise your study technique, but it doesn’t always mean having to study more. Nobody is productive when their brain is tired and foggy.
Students often study without taking any breaks, which is usually driven by their stress and desire to succeed. Remember that feeling stressed is not always a bad thing. It is a necessary part of motivating yourself to achieve.
But it may surprise you to learn that working to 100% of your capacity is just not sustainable in the long term. It can lead to burnout, which significantly increases irritability and fatigue, and depletes motivation. If not addressed early, it can leave you feeling helpless and defeated, and can sometimes take years to recover. Ok so how do I prevent VCE burnout?!
Our top 5 tips to prevent study burnout
Set SMART goals
So you need to study for exams, but what does that actually mean? Where do you start?
Having “biology revision” on your to-do list is pretty vague and overwhelming; where do you start? What would you need to achieve to cross it off? How long will it take? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound, and setting up goals this way actually makes them easier to start and complete!
Break down your revision for each subject into smaller tasks/”chunks”, e.g. by each sub-topic. In the case of an essay, start by writing an essay plan and setting out each part of the essay as a separate task that you spread over time (writing an entire essay in one day is not realistic!). This approach helps you figure out exactly what you need to do, and allows you to regularly cross off completed tasks; you get a sense of accomplishment and are much less likely to procrastinate..
Take regular breaks
Ever sat down at your desk with the plan to spend 8 straight hours studying, only to find yourself staring into space and unable to start work? Chaining yourself to your desk all day might seem like a good idea in theory, but research shows this is not how our brains work!
Instead, use the Pomodoro Technique – a simple strategy for focussed work. The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by 5 minute breaks. After 4 intervals of this (i.e. 2 hours), you take a longer break for 15 to 30 minutes. If the 25-minute work/5-minute break doesn’t quite work for you, experiment and find a time frame that does work (e.g. 20mins work, 5 minute break). The idea is to break bigger tasks into smaller ones with uninterrupted focused work, followed by breaks to relax your mind and integrate the information you just took in.
Make time for fun and rest
Trying to force yourself to study 24/7 will make you miserable, and will actually prevent you from being able to concentrate, learn and retain information.Set aside time every day to do something enjoyable and relaxing, like engaging with a hobby, watching a favourite tv show, spending time with a pet, reading for pleasure, playing sport, spending time in nature etc.
Being in VCE doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit! In fact, spending time with friends and loved ones is even more important in times of stress. You might not have as much time to socialise as you have in the past, but that doesn’t mean you have to decline every invitation or opt out of all social plans! Keep in touch with your friends and make time to see them regularly. This will keep your support system in the loop while strengthening your skills in prioritising and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Keep people in the loop
There will be times when you have a number of SACs or assessment tasks due at once, and juggling everything is tough! Remember to keep the channels of communication open with family/people you live with so you can re-negotiate tasks, chores, and other commitments. Speak to teachers for guidance if you’re feeling overwhelmed with homework, and see if you can negotiate new due dates in advance.
Resources for Parents
We work with heaps of young people here at The Therapy Hub, and we know how stressful VCE can be. Two of our therapists Hilary and Michelle have collaborated on these tips to help you (and your family) prepare for VCE.