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The Final Countdown: Surviving NCA Exam Week

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

It’s really easy to get caught-up in the flurry of exam week—reading during every spare minute, pulling all-nighters, and dreaming about exam answers during the few fleeting moments of REM you do decide to take.

This used to be me. I’d get to the end of an examination period in Law School feeling like I’d been hit head-on by a London Omnibus. When I did finally slow down, I’d immediately get sick.

So, when I started the NCA process I further revised my exam period routine. In Tuesday’s post I talked about managing stress in the week leading up to exams by focusing on being organized and prepared in ways best suited to your learning style. But, no matter how prepared you feel, it’s very easy to slip back into old stress habits during exam week.

In preparation for the week ahead, here are my top tips for staying cool as a cucumber and acing the NCAs drama-free.


Self-Care is Key. Your brain (and your notes) are holding all the key information you need to pass these exams; and, surprise, your body holds your brain. So, why would you sabotage your most valuable assets by not sleeping or feeding yourself properly during exam week?

While you may think working overtime into the wee-hours of the morning frantically reading case law or scribbling notes is all “part of the hustle”, the damage you do to your brain’s ability to function and be alert the next day and during the actual exam makes this an incredibly inefficient way to spend time during exam week. Additionally, your ability to actually learn and retain information when you are exhausted is quite depleted. Get sleep. Your brain will thank you with improved retention and logical reasoning capacity where it matters most -- in the exam hall.

Also, be sure to eat—well and often. A balanced diet and proteins help your brain function better. I always wake-up on the morning of an exam early enough to make a hearty breakfast. Usually, this includes egg and avocado toast with sides of bacon, maple syrup (I’m Canadian eh’), and fruit. Of course, coffee is key too!

Finally, enjoy the hardest work being over and be sure to rest between exams. While light revision the evening before an exam is fine, don’t spend every minute between exams cramming. These are open book exams, remember. So as long as your binders are organized you’ll be fine! Enjoy a nap or some Netflix after a day of exam writing. The recharge will do you good.


Control Your Environment (and who’s in it). During exam week your focus should be on staying calm and healthy so you can perform at your best. Try to remove distractions and sources of stress from your routine for the week. This can include people, technology, and environmental stresses (i.e. a messy house for me).

For instance, perhaps your study group, which was super helpful while preparing for the NCAs, has since become more like an anxiety-swapping party than a productive group of students. It may be best to take a break from each other now and re-group after exams for a celebration.

On the technology front, I personally keep my phone on night mode for the whole week and only check it when I feel like it rather than when a notification pops up. Very likely, you have friends with lives outside the NCAs who don’t realize that their “hot goss” (to quote B99’s Raymond Holt) isn’t at the top of your priorities right now.

Whatever you decide to do, be nice and don’t unnecessarily ghost. Where appropriate, inform people close to you ahead of time that you will be taking a break from your life to write the NCAs -- you’ll be back in a week ready to rumble. They should understand.


Pack Your Bag the Night Before. In the morning or early afternoon before an exam, you may be battling nerves and potentially in a bit of a rush (real or not). Taking the simple step of putting your notes, text book, ID, and a whole bunch of pens into your bag out of your morning routine ensures you won’t have a nagging “did I forget something?” feeling on your way to the exam. A little organization can go a long way.


Be Early, But Not Too Early. The only thing worse than spending an inordinate amount of time outside an exam hall waiting for your exam to start, is rushing across the city in a panic that you are going to miss said exam because you overslept or transit did what transit does best.

So, avoid both. Leave your home early enough to ensure you aren’t rushing and arrive in the examination hall vicinity with plenty of time to spare. Find a quiet place near the exam hall location where you can do a little light review, listen to some happy tunes, or completely distract yourself with social media (whatever works for you).

Whatever you do, don’t spend three hours outside the exam room generating a ball of anxiety within yourself and in collaboration with the other exam takers doing the same thing around you. While I’m quite a social person generally, there were very few people I would engage in a conversation with just before an exam during law school. Most of the time, I kept my earbuds in and did my own thing.


I’m sending you lots of luck and good vibes for the week ahead. You’ve got this. Go forth and crush the NCAs!


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