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Revision burnout: three tips to help you through exam season

Revision burnout: three tips to help you through exam season

Max Alexander-Jones

19/04/2021

No matter what academic stage you are at right now, hopefully, you will be in the middle of exam season. An inevitable problem that we all come across during this time is revision burnout. What I mean by ‘revision burnout’ is when you are in a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. This happens when you feel overwhelmed or emotionally drained as a result of the revision you are doing. This blog will try to explain how to deal with, as well as avoid, burnout caused by exam season. It is worth noting that while everything I am about to suggest has helped me it may not help you; however, hopefully, you will find some benefit from my suggestions.

  1. Split tasks into smaller sections

I am a big fan of to-do lists. Over the years, I have found that they help me to focus my thoughts and avoid procrastination – especially if I keep the to-do list at eye-level throughout the day. For me, a big part of burnout is stress that results from the size of the task at hand. Often when undertaking a large project (eg, an essay or revision), it is tempting to write “do essay” or “do revision” on your to-do list. I have found that this can be extremely counterproductive and end up making you less likely to work as you simply have no idea where to start on this enormous task.

To make things easier for yourself, consider splitting these mega tasks into manageable chunks. For example, isolate specific areas of revision that you need to do or identify a piece of research that you will undergo for your essay. Ultimately, by splitting these large tasks up, you will find it easier to do them and will be less likely to feel overwhelmed as the job at hand no longer seems like an insurmountable one. 

  1. Identify tasks you are interested in

While I am not suggesting that you will be interested in all your studies, you will be interested in at least some part of them – especially in the case of optional modules that you have chosen. Part of revision burnout is being bored of doing the same work over and over; therefore, it is important for you to try to switch things up.

One way to do this, is to revise a topic that you are interested in. By doing this, you break up the monotony of revision as you will be (somewhat) excited by the content you are looking at, compared to the repetitive slog that comes with work you are disinterested in. Further, choosing to work on aspects you are interested in can offer you a window into the rest of your revision. By studying something interesting, you can trick your brain into being in revision mode, hence making it easier for you to then tackle the less interesting work. To use an analogy, the more interesting work acts as a stepladder for your brain, so that climbing up to and doing the less exciting work is not as much of a mental strain.

  1. Take proper breaks

While pretty much every blog on how to deal with revision will suggest this, very few actually tackle the issue of taking a break. What I want to stress is that when you take your break you actually need to take a break – this is something that candidates in the midst of the exam period do forget. For example, I have often taken breaks, only to find myself thinking about revision/exams in some form. This is very unhealthy as it can blur the line between your break time and revision time.

A corollary of this blurring can be that you end up having a less efficient break or time revising. If you have blurred the lines, your time spent revising will be marred by you taking unscheduled breaks, and your time on a break will be spent with you thinking that you should be revising, ultimately adding to the chance of you becoming burnt out. To avoid this, you should therefore take proper breaks.

Blogs tend to suggest examples of a ‘proper break’; however, since everybody reading this will be different, I will not. Instead of suggesting two or three things, try to do some introspection and come up with something that you genuinely feel will be helpful to you. One thing I will suggest is that you try to make your break something that moves you out of your normal revision setting. After all, the last thing you want to do with your break, is spend it in the same position as you would be in if you were revising.