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Want to Succeed in Exams? Learn How Not to Work

13/05/2015 10:54 BST | Updated 12/05/2016 10:59 BST

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We've all been there. Slouched over in your chair, with notes and textbooks carpeting your desk. In amongst this carpet sits your laptop, with a freshly finished episode of *insert American sitcom/crime drama/political drama here*. You see the dreaded countdown until the next episode will automatically play. You have 15 seconds. 15 seconds to convince yourself that the lecture notes that you wanted to get done by today really need doing. You sit up to close your laptop lid; but it's too late. The next episode has begun and the next hour of your day is already lost.

Familiar scenario? There may be variations on this example but one thing we all have in common is the slippery slope we find ourselves on when our stress levels peak; whether it be Netflix or online shopping. We feel defensive about these habits, they feel irrational and irresponsible. From a young age we're taught that being distracted is a sign of weakness, and those who succeed in life know how to concentrate. But in reality those who really succeed aren't the ones who know how to work, they're the ones who know how not to work.

I don't mean the ones who are most familiar with taking a break, I mean the people who know how to fill their breaks. Interrupting your revision to watch TV when you're feeling stressed is not irrational - in fact, it's one of the most rational things you can do. If you were to continue to revise, you'd push yourself until the stress released itself in a dangerous concoction of anxiety and Ben & Jerry's. The problem is not knowing how to structure your breaks. If you find organised ways to relax you can avoid these impulsive decisions that have the potential to wipe out a full day's revision.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to give general advice on how to take revision breaks because the way we recharge ourselves is very individual to the person. But the gist of the message here is don't be afraid to do things that relax you. Going to the pub during the peak of exam time may seem like a stupid idea, but if the alternative is sitting in your room on the verge of having a panic attack because the words just aren't going in, then it's quite the opposite. I'm obviously not advocating heavy drinking around exam times as we all know how bad that is for memory, but if going for a pint or two is going to make you feel recharged and relaxed the next day then by God, just do it.

We like to think that stress during exam time is caused by the exams themselves; we see cause rather than correlation. But maybe if we take a step back and look at all the other things we find ourselves doing as a result of sitting at home 12 hours a day we can tackle the root of the problem.

Human beings are not hardwired to stay inside and sit at a desk. If we work best when we are happy then sitting at a desk simply isn't enough to fulfil our potential. We're hardwired to laugh, to have sex, to exercise, to eat properly, to expose ourselves to sunlight and most importantly to enjoy life. Everything we do is merely a distraction from the fact that we'll all be dead in 100 years, so don't be afraid to let yourself be distracted.

On that cheery note: good luck with your exams!

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