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As exams approach it is important to put aside distractions for a few months in order to achieve your long term goals. Paying attention to all aspects of your daily life will give you the best chance of success. In this handy guide, you’ll find plenty of factual information and suggestions to help you focus on good habits and preparation. Read from cover to cover or dip in and dip out but always remember to:

1 2 3 4

Study diligently Plan your time Ask for help Reward yourself

5 6 7 8

Exercise regularly Eat healthily Learn to relax Manage stress

9 Prioritise sleep 10 Be your best

At Downe we want to prepare you for the ever changing and highly competitive world in which we live. We want you to look forward with confidence knowing that you have all the information and skills needed to be able to make wise choices about your future direction. From the very beginning of your journey at Downe you will have to contend with exams. Each year you will have academic exams, as well as perhaps drama, music, dance and sports exams. This booklet is designed to help you approach any exam you take at Downe with confidence, taking a holistic approach, as success in an exam is far more than just the time taken for the exam. Your lifestyle and preparation play an invaluable part. Each year at Downe is a busy one. Balance is the key! There is nothing we want more than for you to be happy, secure and able to fulfil your potential. The Housestaff, your Academic Tutor and teachers are all here to support you. We want you to be passionate about your academic life at school and have put many strategies in place in order to help you: • We will equip you with revision and study skills • You will be provided with the right environment for learning and studying • Your teachers, tutor, Housestaff and Head of Section will regularly review your

progress and give you feedback

• We will encourage and praise you. We have the highest expectations of you! • In the Upper School and Sixth Form, there are regular morning and evening study sessions

each week. These are taken by senior members of staff and are perfect opportunities to

consolidate your learning or catch up on prep, if you have fallen behind. Your Housemistress

will give you details of these sessions at the start of term. Ideally, this time is perfect to start

looking at exam style questions, so that you are revising as you go and not leaving it until

the examinations loom.

AIMS FOR A DOWNE HOUSE GIRL: 1. The school code is highly important; treat others as you wish to be treated in person

as well as on social media sites.

2. It is cool to work and please be aspirational for yourself. 3. It is important to keep fit and healthy. 4. You must get a good night’s sleep. 5. Reading is so important; not only should you be reading around your subjects but

also for pleasure. If you are not a ‘reader’ and do not know where to start, please ask

your Housemistress or Tutor for advice.

6. To always be outward looking and think about how you can serve others.


Exams assess your understanding of the key concepts and learning outcomes in your studies. They allow you to show what you have learnt.

Exams are not designed to trick you, but knowing what is required of you is essential to success. For many pupils, the process of revising can be an enjoyable period of consolidation. However its association with the impending exam can mean that the whole revision and exams period is stressful. The pressure of revising and taking exams can feel particularly stressful for some more than others. The most important thing is to take control of your revision as this will help you to stay positive and to get the most out of it. You will then approach the exam from a strong position.


whole rolled porridge oats, whole grain

• Your Housestaff, tutor and teachers are

bread or low-sugar muesli, as they

all on hand to support and guide you. If

provide slow-release energy. Add a

you feel you are struggling in any way, it

protein food, such as milk, yoghurt or

is important to TALK to someone.

eggs, to keep you feeling full for longer.

• Remind yourself again of your motives

On an exam day aim to include a

for studying – be realistic about what

portion of a food rich in long-chain

you can achieve in the time available,

Omega-3 fats, such as smoked

and keep the exam in perspective.

mackerel, as they are believed to have

• Look after yourself. Eat well, get enough

brain-boosting properties.

sleep, take exercise, plan relaxation time

• Relaxing an hour before the exam rather

and practise your favourite stress-

than studying. Cramming at that stage

reducing activities.

will not pay off. Going for a walk outside

• Use all the techniques you have learnt

and filling your lungs with oxygen is a

good thing to do. Go by yourself,

rather than with friends and focus on

your breathing rather than the looming

from your teachers and from Elevate

Education. PREPARE YOURSELF THE DAY OF THE EXAM IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS: • Eat a sensible breakfast. Overindulging

the day of the exam may lead to

sluggishness and/or an upset stomach

but ensure that you have eaten a good

breakfast so that you have a good

amount of energy to tackle your exam.

Research shows that those who eat

breakfast tend to perform better in

exams. For the best breakfast, include

slow-release carbohydrates, such as

exam. • Arrive early (5 - 10 minutes) to the exam

location but do not talk to your peers.

Focus on yourself. Avoid peers who may

increase your anxiety with questions you

cannot answer or whose own anxiety is

contagious. • Avoid caffeine (i.e. in coffee, tea, or soft

drinks) before the exam.

• Make sure you have all the correct

equipment you need for your exam.


• Keep track of the time so you can pace


• Follow the instructions of the

you spend on a question should


• Breathe! Breathe deeply to get good


• Avoid focusing on what other pupils

amounts of oxygen to the brain.

yourself appropriately. How much time depend on how much the question is

• Do not be afraid to put your hand up

are doing during the exam as this is an

unhealthy distraction.

to ask a question, should you need to.

• Take time to read the exam rubric

• Do not panic when you are not the first

carefully, twice if you need to and

to hand in your exam. You do not get

have a clear idea of the timings of the

extra marks for finishing early.

exam before you start. Remember


this is time well spent.


• Quickly review the whole exam before

• Reward yourself whether you think you

you answer any of the questions.

did well on the exam or not. Reward

• Begin by answering the easiest

your effort.

• Focus on what you did right rather than

questions first to build up your sense of


• If you blank out on a question or cannot

• Do not discuss the exam questions with

answer it, skip it and go on to another.

other pupils. It will likely only increase

• When you are unsure about an answer,

your anxiety.

mark the question and go back to it if

• Do not immediately start studying for

you have time at the end of the exam.

• If you get overwhelmed with anxiety,

use some of the relaxation techniques

you have learned to relax your mind and

your body.

any mistakes you may have made.

another exam. Take some time to relax


At Downe there are so many opportunities to exercise and to be physically active from PE lessons to extra-curricular activities. Even if you are someone who does not enjoy ‘organised sports’, it is important to be physically fit, as this will bring many benefits.


Exercise and other physical activity can both significantly reduce stress and prevent the negative effects of stress. The range of activities that are beneficial are endless and include such things as walking, running, cycling, swimming, riding, dancing, skiing, gardening, weight training, hiking, and any number of team sports. Exercise causes the release of endorphins into your blood stream, which produces a natural “high” that leaves you calmer and less stressed. Should you want help or advice with an individual fitness programme, the PE department would be more than happy to discuss this with you.

Make sure that you eat a balanced diet. That means having regular meals that include items of all the different food groups. It is important to begin your day with an adequate breakfast. Minimize your use of foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats and increase your fibre intake.


Aim for a diet that is rich in lean protein, vegetables and healthy fats, and at the same time cuts out toxic foods such as caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and processed foods. Think about the tuck you buy and aim to stick to the rule of ‘everything in moderation’. Should you want any help with following a healthy eating plan, do not hesitate to contact the Medical Centre. Embrace the cliché and make breakfast the most important meal of the day, filling up on energy-giving oats and also eggs, which contain a nutrient called choline , thought to help cognitive performance and improve memory as we age. Stay hydrated - water allows many of the chemical reactions in our bodies to take place and therefore, the speed at which our brains can work and process all those notes will be affected if we become dehydrated. The NHS recommends we aim to drink around 1.2 litres of fluid a day - water being the liquid of choice to keep your body functioning on top form. It is a good idea to start the day with a big glass of water or a hot drink such as fruit tea. The European Food Safety Authority recommends women drink about 1.6 litres of fluid a day and men 2 litres. That’s eight to ten 200ml glasses. Water is ideal, but healthy drinks such as milk or fruit juice count. Tea and coffee count too, but are high in caffeine. It is best to avoid fizzy and energy drinks, which are high in sugar, as they’ll lead to energy peaks and troughs. Eat for energy - tempted to reach for something sweet to get you through the afternoon? Excessive sugar consumption is getting particularly bad press at the moment, and with good reason. The temporary high you will get from a sugar-fix will be followed quickly by crashing blood sugar levels causing, among other things, fatigue. Opt instead for healthy snacks, packed with wholefoods like dried fruit nuggets and melon bran pots or, if you cannot close your books for long enough to cook, snack on blueberries, blackcurrants and other berries, all full of vitamin C, which is thought to help improve mental agility. Vitamin E and zinc are also thought to have a positive impact on the brain so have a helping of pumpkin seeds and walnuts on hand next time hunger strikes.

10 FOODS TO BOOST YOUR BRAINPOWER BY JO LEWIN to/guide/10-foods-boost-your-brainpower Eating well is good for your mental as well as your physical health. The brain requires nutrients just as your heart, lungs or muscles do. But which foods are particularly important to keep our grey matter happy? 1. OPT FOR WHOLEGRAIN Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate, steady supply of energy - in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing wholegrain with a low-GI, which releases glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Opt for ‘brown’ cereals, wheat bran, granary bread and brown pasta.

are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. A study of a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment found that after two years of intervention with high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid there was significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a subset given placebo treatment.

2. EAT OILY FISH Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish as EPA and DHA. Good sources include linseed (flaxseed) oil, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil and soya beans. They are good for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and general wellbeing. Oily fish contains EPA and DHA in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

6. GET A BLACKCURRANT BOOST Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility. One of the best sources of this vital vitamin are blackcurrants.

3. BINGE ON BLUEBERRIES Evidence accumulated at Tufts University in the United States suggests that the consumption of blueberries may be effective in improving or delaying short term memory loss. 4. EAT MORE TOMATOES There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. 5. ADD VITALITY WITH VITAMINS Certain B vitamins - B6, B12 and folic acid -

7. PICK UP PUMPKIN SEEDS Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. 8. BET ON BROCCOLI A great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. 9. SPRINKLE ON SAGE Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory and although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too. 10. GO NUTS A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and wholegrain. Do remember that there are lots of girls with nut allergies though, so it might be better to ‘go nuts’ out of school.


Relaxation is a skill that can be learnt like any other. It is impossible to be tense and relaxed at the same time. Some relaxation

techniques work directly on the physiology, for example, meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation and massage. Other techniques work indirectly through a psychological process, listening to music, watching TV, reading a book. You should have access to a variety of techniques to help discover what works best for you. Know what works for you.


It is important that you develop skills in managing stress, should you suffer from it, in order for you to

reach your goals. There are no quick solutions for stress caused by serious and long-term problems, but there are some instant techniques that could help you gain some control and assist you in trying to find solutions. It usually helps to close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths whenever you start feeling stressed. Breathing deep into the chest instantly lowers adrenaline levels and should reduce the immediate feeling of panic. If this does not work, try cupping your hands round your nose and mouth and breathing in and out a few times. It also helps to take a walk or become involved in some kind of physical activity if it is possible. Here are some common methods that you could use for managing stress: Become knowledgeable about stress Understand how stress works and the effects on you. Identify your major sources of stress. Find your optimum level of stress for various situations, anticipate stressful events and plan for them. Exercise and keep physically fit Research has shown that the fitter you are the better you are able to deal with stress in your life and stay healthy. Any kind of physical exercise, whether it is a sport, dancing or aerobics helps to neutralize the stress response as well as re-energizing you to tackle your problems. Being fit helps you to be more resilient when engaging with the daily demands of being a pupil. Maintain a healthy lifestyle Develop a lifestyle that would act as buffer against the effects of stress. Establish your priorities and focus on what is important as opposed to less important issues. Learn how to deal with procrastination. Develop the skills of asking for what you want, stating your preferences and saying no to people and activities that demand too much from you. Have clear objectives Many of us end up doing too much, too quickly and then have poor results to show for it. This is often true because we have not asked ourselves what it is that we really want to achieve. It helps to be able to think in terms of objectives. This does not only refer to major life decisions, but to all activities in our lives. A sense of well-being results from having clear goals and objectives and making plans for achieving them. Remember to be aspirational for yourself!

Be systematic about making decisions and solving problems Learn to break a problem down into smaller manageable components, which might make it easier to solve. Make sure that you have gathered enough information about the problem to put it into perspective. Become aware of how you tend to make decisions and what you would need to make a good decision. Be clear about your values Until you know what is important in your life, you will have difficulty in setting objectives for yourself. You need to clarify your values. It is important to remember that values can change as you mature and grow older. You constantly need to reassess your values. Give yourself a treat Remember to treat yourself and have things to look forward to. Develop an effective support system One of the most significant factors in minimizing the effect of stress in your life is developing an effective support system. Many people are not sure whom to count on or how to ask for help in difficult times but having people to turn to and talk to can be extremely helpful in difficult times. Identify people at Downe who you feel comfortable turning to. Remember, you can seek guidance on this from the ‘Where can I go for help’ posters up around school. Getting Support • Be as honest as possible with this person so he or she can understand the problem from

your perspective and better assist you. Remember, too, that the need for support during

times of stress is universal. It is part of what makes us human. It is the smart thing to do!

• Explaining your feelings to someone you trust will help you feel less overwhelmed,

confused and alone. As you talk you may gain a different perspective. It may become clearer

to you what steps you need to take to solve the problem.

Giving Support • If a friend confides in you about a problem she is experiencing, it is important to remember

two things. It was probably hard for her to share this with you, and there is a lot you can do

to help.

Be an Active Friend • Do not wait for someone to ask you for help if they are obviously in trouble. Sometimes

you will need to actively reach out by

calling or seeking out the person. Once

you are together, all it may take is a question

or comment to get a person talking about a

difficult problem.

SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES TO HELP MANAGE STRESS: Diaphragmatic Breathing When we are under stress, we tend to breathe more quickly and more shallowly. Fortunately, we have control over our rate of breathing and when we take slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths, we will induce the relaxation response in our body. If you are doing diaphragmatic breathing correctly, you will notice your abdomen rising and falling with each breath. If you notice instead that your chest is rising and falling more than your abdomen, you are reducing the efficiency of your breathing. Breathe in to the count of five and out to the count of five, and you will begin to feel a sense of relaxation fill your mind and your body. Develop a Calming Focus Focus on something in your immediate environment that is pleasant, beautiful, or calming. This could be something visual such as a painting, tree, or flower, or it could be something that stimulates your other senses such as a pleasant smell or taste. Allow yourself to fully experience whatever it is you are focusing on. Develop a Positive Filter A lot of stress is created by unknowingly focusing on all of the negativity in the world around you and in your own life. However, on a daily basis, you can begin to train yourself to look for the positive. This could involve doing an inventory each day of what went right, rather than focusing on the problems you have encountered or mistakes you have made. Avoid Stimulants There are several substances that, on a physiological level, actually stimulate the stress response in our body. Two of the most commonly used stimulants are caffeine and nicotine. If stress is an issue for you, then reducing or eliminating these substances from your body would go a long way towards reducing your stress level. Be Realistic About What You Can and Cannot Control A great deal of stress can be created in one’s life by either trying to control events or other people we cannot control. The first step in reducing this source of stress is to determine whether the stressor is under your control or not. If it is not, learn to accept it rather than experience the frustration that inevitably follows if you try to change it. On the other hand, if it is controllable, devise and execute a plan to overcome it. Watch Your Diet Although most people today realise that our diet has a big impact on our physical health, fewer people are aware of how much it affects our resistance to stress. Eating a healthy and well balanced diet is like giving ourselves an immunity to stress. Live In the Present Much stress is created by living in the past or worrying about the future. Develop a “one-day-at-atime” mind set, since we can only really control the present anyway. Think each morning how you can make this the best day of your life despite any circumstances that may be challenging.

Keep a Diary Instead of keeping all your feelings and thoughts inside, which can lead to a constant state of worry, express them in a diary which will provide a sense of relief and may serve as the first step in a problem-solving process. Laughter Both laughing and crying help relieve stress, with the benefits being both physiological and psychological. Try and see the humour in stressful situations. Laughter is considered one of the best medicines for stress. Actively seek out humorous books, TV shows, movies or life situations that will bring humour into your life. Do not be afraid to laugh at yourself and your mistakes, rather than dwell on these and create misery in your life. Be creative to get your daily fix of laughter. Cry Allowing yourself to express some tears when you are emotionally upset can be a great release and a big stress reducer. Crying is our body’s natural mechanism to reduce anxiety and tension, although many people, particularly men, are reluctant to use it. Holding in negative feelings in the long term just does not work. Get Support Research indicates that one of the best ways to combat stress is to develop and rely on a support system. Whether this be family, relatives, friends, other students, or faculty, the opportunity to talk to any of these people is a great way to minimise our stress. At Downe, there are many different people you can turn to for support. Do not be reluctant to open up, since this is how we develop connection with the people around us and solidify our support system. Lack of connection will undoubtedly lead to feelings of loneliness and increase our overall stress level. Take a Holiday in Your Mind Although taking a real holiday is a great potential stress reducer, it is not always possible, especially in the middle of a hectic schedule. Instead, take a short (i.e. 1 to 5 minute) holiday in your head. Imagine any scene that you find relaxing, or any place you have been that is accompanied by positive memories. Try to bring each of your five senses (i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) into the image to increase your level of relaxation. Let Go Of Perfectionism Trying to be perfect or do a perfect job is a sure recipe for stress. Realistic goals will still allow you a sense of achievement but will also give you room to make mistakes, which are inevitable anyway.

Manage Your Time A major source of stress today for many people, particularly pupils, is being over-committed with little time available for rest and relaxation. Developing a reasonable schedule, which includes both productive activity and fun or relaxing activities, can significantly reduce stress. Develop a list of activities that you need to accomplish and prioritise these. Realise that studying all the time without adequate breaks is not the most effective strategy to get high marks and is a sure recipe for stress. Find Solitude Given all the pressures of school life, time on your own can be an important strategy to manage your stress. This is particularly true if your day is filled with a lot of contact with other people. Alone time can be used for relaxation, as a time to reflect on your life, or as an opportunity to do solitary hobbies or physical activities. Establish Realistic Goals Live in the present but plan for the future. Writing out both short and long-term goals that are realistic and meaningful can reduce a lot of stress by making you more purposeful and productive. The alternative, which is to procrastinate, leads to high levels of stress. Massage For many people, stress manifests itself as muscle tension in their body. One strategy to reduce this tension is to give yourself a massage if you cannot find someone else to do it for you. Focus on the neck, shoulders and face since much of our stress accumulates in these muscle groups and will ultimately lead to pain if not attended to. Stretch Stretching is another way to reduce muscle tension in your body and psychologically help you experience a sense of relaxation. Focusing on muscles that are most obviously tight is a good starting point, but you can include your whole body. Just shaking a part of your body may also be helpful to reduce tension. Taking up yoga may provide you with regular opportunity to enjoy the benefits of stretching and relaxation. Spirituality For some people developing a more spiritual life, whether this be formalised religion or not, can help reduce stress in a number of ways. Spirituality may help one deal with some of the more existential questions about life. As well, prayer or meditation can have a very relaxing effect on the body. The Chapel is always open for quiet contemplation, should you wish.


A good night’s sleep is essential and has many benefit such as stress relief, reducing the risk of many chronic diseases, improvement of memory and

cognitive function. It is important to ensure that you get yourself into a good pattern of sleep. Difficulty sleeping can be a very common problem. Problems sleeping can manifest themselves in a number of different ways including difficulties falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night and early morning awakening. On average, teenagers need about nine hours of sleep to function at an optimum, but there are significant individual differences in the amount of sleep needed. A good night’s sleep is essential to restore our body and our mind. Establish a Bedtime Ritual Make a ritual out of going to bed by trying to do the same activities in the same order each and every night before you go to bed. Ensure that the routine does not include stimulating activities within an hour before bed. To relax, listen to calm music, have a hot bath, read some “light” material, or listen to relaxation tapes. You could turn your ‘little lights’ on earlier. Screen Time Avoid using your phone or any of your devices which emit blue light at least an hour before bedtime. Tablets, smartphones and other devices with self-luminous electronic displays are major sources for suppressing melatonin at night, thereby reducing sleep duration and disrupting sleep. Reserve Your Bed for Sleep To form an appropriate association with your sleep environment, sleep researchers recommend you avoid activities other than sleep in your bed. Studying, watching TV on iPads or laptops, eating, or other activities that require mental activity should be avoided when in bed. Avoid Stimulants Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, particularly before going to bed. Your last cup of coffee should be no later than 6 to 8 hours before bed. Remember, caffeine is also found in many foods or drinks besides coffee, such as soft drinks and chocolate. Focus on Relaxing Images Focusing on relaxing images tends to stimulate activity in the right hemisphere of our brain, which also coordinates the relaxation response in our body. These images could involve almost anything you find personally relaxing: your favourite place, a trip you were on, a deserted island, or a place you have always dreamed of traveling to. Exercise Regularly Exercise regularly so your body feels tired when you go to bed. You are more likely to experience deep sleep if you exercise. Do not do strenuous exercises within three hours of bedtime however. Exercise increases your core body temperature and sleepiness will only set in when your body temperature drops. The only exercise just before bedtime that can help induce sleep is gentle stretching for a few minutes. Strenuous exercise in the late afternoon promotes the most restful sleep. Exercise is particularly important the day after a bad night’s sleep. Being less active the next day only magnifies your sleep problems.

Take a Warm Bath Enjoying a hot bath before bedtime will help you relax both mentally and physically. As your body cools after the bath, you are more likely to fall asleep. Each boarding house has a holistic box which has bath lights, amongst other things to help induce relaxation. Watch What You Eat Eating too much before bedtime can disrupt your sleep because your body is actively involved in the process of digestion. However, going to bed hungry may also disrupt your sleep, so try a light snack (i.e. warm milk which contains the sleep inducer tryptophan). There are a number of tyrosine rich foods that can disrupt sleep including fermented cheese, ripe avocados, fermented meats (i.e. salami, pepperoni). Foods high in protein may also induce wakefulness. Avoid Watching Your Clock Attending to your clock during the night will often increase your sense of worry and ultimately disrupt your sleep. Turn your clock around or cover it up if you cannot train yourself to avoid looking at it during the night. Restrict Your Liquid Intake before Bed If you drink too much before bed, you may very well disrupt your sleep because you need to go to the loo. Trips to the bathroom will likely disrupt the quality of sleep since we do not get the deep restorative phases of sleep if it is interrupted rather than continuous. Do Not Panic If you cannot sleep, do not panic. The more you panic the less chance you will sleep. Sleep is a natural process you do not want to force. Just let it happen. Remember, we can still function without much sleep even though it does not feel very good. Good sleep habits last a lifetime Remember, habits learned in adolescence often become lifetime habits, so make sure you learn good sleep habits early and they’ll last a lifetime. And finally‌ Be your best and give yourself credit for all the learning you have done both in class and independently. Exams give you the opportunity to show this and, like everything, they will soon pass.

Finding Balance Booklet April 2017

Finding Balance  
Finding Balance  

Our Finding Balance programme includes yoga, mindfulness and a range of techniques and tips to ensure that girls have the tools to manage th...