As the exam season approaches, it’s easy to slip into a state of worry and negativity. For students, this time period of deadlines and exams raises concerns about success, and can lead to us holding many distressing thoughts and beliefs. You might find yourself battling with your own expectations, comparisons to peers, and feel as if you’re not progressing towards your goals of academic success. It can be difficult to maintain a positive mindset during this time but it’s not impossible. From simple mind set shifts to healthy habits, you can make it through the exam season with a positive and resilient outlook.
How to Adopt a Growth Mindset vs. A Fixed Mindset
In academia, research has shown how a student’s mindset can influence their academic performance, and their ability to navigate challenges. Students who have a fixed mindset believe their abilities, skills and talents are fixed. Their current state is a reflection of who they will be in future and can’t be improved upon. If studying a topic becomes difficult, they tend to assume they are not smart enough and equally, only feel smart when learning comes easily. For those with a fixed mindset, constructive feedback is discouraging, and hard to implement. Students are more likely to set themselves performance oriented goals, and view setbacks as a sign of their lack of ability to succeed. This means students end up holding negative beliefs about themselves and resist opportunities to learn. During the exam season, this can be a hard mindset to work with, making you feel inadequate, and discouraged during revision, especially if you experience setbacks while trying to learn, or implement study habits and routines.
In contrast, students with a growth mindset have a forward looking approach that focuses on improvement and progression. These students believe they have the capacity to adapt, and improve upon their abilities, skills, talents by being proactive. Learning is viewed as an effortful journey that will be full of mistakes, and feedback is used to make progress on their weaker areas.
Their goals are more likely to be learning oriented, focusing on how far they have progressed, rather than how well they performed. Typically, students with a growth mindset perform better academically, because they are able to learn and adapt throughout their academic journey. These mindsets are two ends of a spectrum, so it’s more likely that we shift between them. If you’re curious about your current mindset, you can access your personal mindset as a student here.
The mindset we hold is not only important for our academic performance but more importantly, our mental wellbeing. If we believe our ability to succeed is tied to ourselves and reflects our worth, we can feel negatively about ourselves and long term, this can have an impact on our mental health. But the good news is, our mindsets can be changed quite easily, even learning about the concept has been shown to help students adapt their learning approach. So, don’t feel bad if you’re leaning towards a fixed mindset, acknowledgement is the first step to turning things around. For the exam season, adopting a growth mindset can make it easier to adapt when you’re struggling to learn a topic, or take a new approach when working on an assignment. You can implement a growth mindset by:
- Praising your efforts. Instead of feeling discouraged or criticising yourself when you encounter setbacks, or difficulty while learning, reflect on your efforts. It might have taken longer than expected, or you needed help, but in the end, you achieved your goal, or can try again. Preserving will be easier if you praise your best efforts.
- Setting learning based goals. You can make sense of the progress you have made by asking yourself, how much have I learnt? How confident do I feel? This can be more encouraging than focusing on grades, or being the best of the best. Retrospective revision timetables are a good way to visualise your confidence across a subject.
- Asking what you can do differently. Often, we can simply tell ourselves to do better, work harder, or longer. But this gives us no direction, and implies that there’s something wrong with our abilities. Instead, look at how you can redirect and hone your efforts. What can you do differently? What does ‘doing better’ look like, and is this realistic?
- Seeking feedback. If you can get feedback from lecturers, mentors or other students, this can make identifying areas for improvement easier. Feedback might come paired with valuable advice to implement. It’s important to remember feedback isn’t a negative reflection of who you are, or your work. Everyone requires feedback to improve and this is how people attain their best.
- Thinking about others. What would you tell another student if they were feeling incapable? Typically, we’re our own worst critics but would have a kinder, and more open mind when it comes to others. It’s likely we wouldn’t want someone else to feel incapable, and would want to suggest ways they can improve because you believe they can achieve. Imagine yourself as a friend or family member when you find yourself being negative about your abilities.
The Importance of Lifestyle Habits
While our mindset is important for facing challenges, and preserving through difficult times, so are our lifestyle habits. It’s difficult to maintain a positive outlook on life when you lack energy, mental clarity and general wellness. That’s why our lifestyle habits, such as exercising, diet, sleep and even our ability to manage stressful situations with proper planning, time management, and real breaks are essential to surviving the exam season.
- Exercise. This will depend on your current habits, if you’re not an active person, take small steps. This could be 10 minute walks throughout the day as a break from your desk, or following a 5-15 minute video for stretching before bed, or in the morning. A small, sustainable effort is better than nothing at all. If you’re a more active person and want to commit extra time, see where you can best fit in a workout, and stack this habit with other recurring events. For example, you could workout first thing in the morning, or after one of your lessons. Habit stacking can make changes easier to implement.
- Diet. During the exam season, it can be easy to end up skipping proper meals, and live off junk food and caffeine instead. But this can slow you down, and lead you to experience energy crashes throughout the day. Instead, it’s ideal if you can focus on having a nutritious breakfast, stay hydrated throughout the day, and fuel up on small meals. To make this easier, you can try meal prepping or, saving simple quick recipes to use when you’re busy. For example, many youtubers and bloggers share student friendly recipes, such as Pick Up Limes, Avant Garde and Liv B. This can save a lot of time in the long run, and still allow you to maintain a balanced diet.
- Planning. The stress that inevitably arises during the exam season can be reduced by learning how to manage our tasks and time. Previously, we’ve shared tips for creating an effective revision plan, and time management principles and techniques for balancing the exam season and life itself. Additionally, we also have guides for creating a sustainable study routine, and managing stress using planning and progress tracking. By taking the time to get to grips with what needs doing, and actively managing your time, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed. Planning also means you can ensure there’s time for eating well, and exercising.
Finally, remember to have balance. Our lifestyle habits are important but no one is perfect, and treating ourselves is more than okay. Particularly when dealing with a stressful period such as the exam season, we need to reward ourselves. You don’t have to eat healthy all the time, or exercise every day, the idea is to have small, sustainable habits, balanced with treats and things that make us feel good. Otherwise, maintaining good habits will be harder if we feel they’re burdensome.