Surviving the storm

December 2020

Alison Sweeting explains how to best prepare for your CIPFA exams amid a perfect storm.

It’s coming up to exam time for many students and, in addition to the usual pressures and stresses of trying to juggle study, revision and exams with work and personal life, we have the added challenge of the continuing Covid-19 uncertainty and restrictions.

There’s no denying that 2020 has been a more difficult and challenging year for us all than any in recent memory, not just personally, but also at the national and global levels.

How can students best prepare themselves for exams in the middle of this perfect storm? Many of the tips we normally give in the lead up to exams still stand:

Draw up a timetable for revision and try to stick to it: Be reasonable in the time you allocate to revision. You’ve done the learning. This is about practising your exam technique, focusing on the areas where you know you are weaker and remembering the advice your trainers have given you during the term. Remember that every part of the syllabus can be examined, even if it hasn’t been covered in the classroom, so don’t ignore the self-study elements.

Get plenty of sleep: It’s tempting to stay up late, fuelled up by caffeine, and get in a few more hours of revision. You’ll not be at your best if you haven’t had enough rest and your brain won’t retain what you are revising. Far better to make time to relax before you go to sleep so that your brain has a rest as well as your body. Then you can come fresh to it the next day.

Eat and drink well: Don’t skip meals because you’re reluctant to leave your studies. Eat healthy food (protein, vegetables, fruit, nuts) but don’t deny yourself an occasional treat if you want one. Keep hydrated – drink lots of water and try not to have too much caffeine or alcohol. Your quality of sleep will thank you for it!

Get some fresh air and exercise every day: With the short days and colder, damper weather, it’s tempting to hibernate and bury your head in your books. A brisk walk, even for as little as 15 minutes, will help your circulation and blow away a few cobwebs.

Take vitamins: If you’re suffering from a lack of sunlight, as many of us are in the long winter months, take some vitamin D supplements.

Try to keep it in perspective: Passing your exams is important, but you have other important things in your life too. Try not to neglect those and use your family and friends to support you through this period.

Remember, what you want is a safe pass: You don’t need to get 100% and not everyone will be a prize winner. You want to go into your exam feeling confident you know enough to get a safe pass. Manage your time and remember to breathe!

There is no shame in saying that you are finding life difficult – there is help available. Earlier this year, CIPFA ran a series of wellbeing webinars for our students. These live sessions were recorded and are available to all our students in their CIPFA Learning account.

We are running a second series of webinars in November and December and we hope these will provide support and information to our students. If you are struggling, your employer may have an employee assistance scheme that you can access. Use this if you need to – it is there to help you. CIPFA is also training some staff and students as Mental Health First Aiders to provide extra support. We take the mental health of our students seriously and hope that this initiative will be of real benefit.

The continued uncertainty of Covid-19 adds an extra dimension to the challenge, and it’s more important than ever that we take care of our mental health during these challenging times. The dark and damp of the winter months make another lockdown, even a partial one, more difficult than earlier this year.

• Alison Sweeting, Interim Operations Support Manager, CIPFA.