Your wellbeing is very important when studying for your professional accounting exams. It can be a difficult balance, but there are ways to ensure that you can combine study and work while keeping stress levels to a minimum.
In this blog, we look at 5 simple and effective ways to get a good work/life balance and keep stress to a minimum so you can pass your upcoming exams.
1) Get organised
Effective preparation is critical to exam success. Plan your studies and revision to help you achieve the results you've worked hard for.
Being organised and establishing good study habits can help you do well, but it will also help improve your mental and physical wellbeing.
Your exam preparation period is time-bound, so break your revision down into small chunks, and form a plan. Once you've got a plan, you won't start the day not knowing what to do.
Also, make sure you schedule in free time to unwind and protect this time. Nobody can work all day every day. If you give yourself enough rest you may be able to work more efficiently.
Don't panic if you go slightly off schedule - there’s always tomorrow.
2) Exams and the build-up
The build up to exams can be a very stressful time if you don’t manage it or ensure you’re prepared so panic doesn’t set in. Here are a number of strategies to help you cope:
A positive mindset can do wonders for your confidence come exam time.
To achieve this, make sure you have done the right kind of studying – this doesn’t mean just reading notes all day and night; you must also practice past exam questions.
If you’re unable to complete any part of a question when answering a past exam, don’t ignore it – phone a friend, or better still, contact your tutor (if you have one). Remember, if you find a question difficult, it’s likely others will too.
Many students will be familiar with that shaky, nauseous feeling you can sometimes get as you go into an exam. But, there are ways you can ease these feelings.
Try to breathe slowly and deeply, and say to yourself: ‘Take it easy, just relax.’ You’ll find the anxiety often passes quite quickly and you can concentrate on the questions.
Here are a few apps to help you learn how to stay calm before and during the exam.
The best route to confidence at the exam is knowing you’ve prepared as much as you can.
Make sure you have revised the whole syllabus for the exam you’re taking and avoid question spotting. This way you will feel confident enough to talk about any topic as you know your way around the syllabus.
Keep it healthy
There are certain types of food and drink that will help you think clearly during your exam.
Drinking water beforehand helps, but don’t drink too much otherwise you’ll be going to the toilet all the time. Keep a small bottle of water on your desk to keep yourself hydrated.
Also, make sure you have something to eat at least an hour before the exam starts so you’re not disturbed by hunger pangs. Be careful not to eat too much as this can make you sleepy.
Before your exam, worrying and thinking too much about what is ahead of you can sometimes make your anxiety worse. An ideal way to combat this is to take your mind off it by finding something to do.
Taking a walk in the park or a half an hour of physical exercise is also another way to release tension. Lying down and listening to music can also be a great way to keep your mind busy.
3) Deal with stress
Finding a good place and time to study can help you concentrate as well as reduce stress. Think about when and where you work best.
Not everyone is a morning person, and some people don’t find certain places a productive place to work. There's no best place or time to work - it's all about what works for you.
Make sure to take frequent breaks. Psychologists say we can only concentrate properly for 30-45 minutes. When you do take a break make sure you don’t stay at your desk or stare at a screen, you could go for a walk or even just make a cup of tea or coffee!
It’s important to eat and drink adequately around revision time and preparing an optimum diet doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. One of the best ways to maximise your focus and ensure you can perform well is to keep hydrated.
You will find a lot of articles online about eating right to help study, including ACCA’s wellbeing section on their website.
4) Prioritise sleep
A UK survey found that on average most people are missing out on 210 hours a year in sleep.
In addition, very few people are aware of something called sleep hygiene - habits and routines that are conducive to creating the best conditions for regular, healthy and restorative sleep.
So what’s the best way to help promote sleep? Here are 4 simple solutions:
- Magnesium - is a mineral and our bodies require approximately 300 mg per day to function optimally.
- Tryptophan - which is an amino acid found in foods like turkey, red meat, nuts, seeds, lentils, oats, etc.
- Melatonin - You may have heard of melatonin - it’s termed the ‘get good sleep hormone’ and is one of the many sleep-inducing factors required for good sleep. The body requires external ingredients like tryptophan to make melatonin - just know that if your diet is light on tryptophan, you're not giving your body the best ingredients for sleep.
- Temperature - our core body temperature has to decrease for good sleep. So, give your body a hand by adjusting the thermostat. The sweet spot is 13.5-20 degrees Celsius.
One thing to be aware of if you do have issues with sleep, avoid false daytime impact from TVs and screens. Your body sees this as light and releases hormones to wake you up.
5) Leave work at the office or on your laptop
Long, stressful hours working along with evenings and weekends spent studying are physically and psychologically draining. So, here are some quick tips to manage those feelings.
- Get physical - Staying awake well into the night to study is counter-productive for most people. It can make you so tired that little information is absorbed, and sleeping is disturbed.
It’s equally important not to ignore signs of flagging when you need to work, study, or attend classes. Keep your energy levels up. If necessary, snack at your desk, and take regular breaks, even if they just involve ten minutes of listening to inspiring music between sections of a particularly heavy textbook – your eyes will be grateful.
- Think happy thoughts - Once you understand when your body gets tired, build recreation into your study schedule, free of guilt. Playing one level of a computer game when you answer a past exam question or look forward to activities such as cooking.
Explore a hobby or sport and try to do it at least one morning each weekend to have time that’s just for you.
- Write lists – For example, ticking tasks off as they are completed – is just one of the ways you can proactively try to improve your work-life balance.
Consider setting daily goals and priorities for larger tasks earlier in the day so they are not left overnight.
- Turn off your work phone in the evening unless you are on call. Whatever it is will still be there in the morning and you will be much more refreshed and ready to deal with it if you have had a good night’s sleep.
- Develop a peer network - It’s important to think about establishing a good support network in order to be able to offload work stress. Develop a support network of colleagues and mentors who can help you manage your stress.
Use these tips to help prepare you in the lead up to your professional exams to give yourself the best chance of staying calm and passing on the day.