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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Exam Tip #15: Sleep

If you need to cut some wood, you’ll need a saw, preferably a sharp one.

But as you use it, the sharp little teeth of the saw become worn and blunt. So it’s best to have your saw regularly sharpened.

Your brain, just like the saw, needs to be sharpened, too. And the thing you use to sharpen your brain is called sleep.

As far as preparing for exams is concerned, sleep is great for two things: firstly, it helps you fix ideas into your long-term memory and, secondly, it helps keep your thinking sharp.

So before an important exam, get a good night’s sleep.

The worst thing to do is turn up for your exam mentally exhausted.

If you were an athlete and you turned up to a race already physically tired, you’d be asking for failure from the start, wouldn’t you?

This is exactly the same.

It’s not just an exam. It’s a contest. It’s a battle.

You need to start at the top of your form.

You must rest as much as you can.

You might think ‘Oh, this chapter isn’t for me. I can stay awake all night and still be perfectly alert and capable the following day.’


The problem with being mentally tired is you’re too tired to realise you’re tired.

Someone who is drunk thinks they’re perfectly capable of functioning well.

They’re too drunk to realise they’re not.

If you’re still not convinced, try measuring your reaction time after having just a few hours of sleep. (There are many websites and apps to measure your reaction time. Check out ‘’ or the ‘’.)

To be alert and able to think clearly, you need a solid night’s sleep.

You probably won’t be able to get to sleep easily because you’ll be thinking about the next day.

That’s normal, too.

But don’t be tempted to turn the light on and do a little more revising.

It’s a dangerous trap.

The more you anxiously pore through your papers, the more adrenaline you’ll produce.

What’s worse, you slowly become even more mentally exhausted.

Please understand this: By revising late into the small hours of the following morning, there is no way you are going to improve the probability of you getting a better grade tomorrow and every chance you’ll get a worse one.

So even if you can’t sleep, keep the light off and try your best to relax. Imagine yourself going to your exam, calmly sitting at your table, carefully reading through the question paper and confidently answering the questions to the best of your ability.

Imagine yourself walking out of the exam, satisfied you did your best.

This is called positive framing or reinforcement.

It’s what top athletes do.

It helps calm your mind so you can get that all important sleep.

The reason why they do it is because it works. And if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you, especially if you want to get the best grade possible.

Tip 15: Get a solid night’s sleep the night before the exam.

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