How to Study Like an Olympian

With the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang underway, audiences worldwide are mesmerized by the athletes’ impressive skills and dedication. At first, it may be hard to see the connection between the physical strength displayed on the Olympic podium and the mental strength required to ace an exam, but the difference might not be as drastic as you think!

Being an Olympic athlete requires just as much mental training as it does physical, and those same mental practices can be used to accomplish many different kinds of goals, including grabbing that A on your next midterm. Here are 5 ways your favourite athletes train their brains, that you can use to go for gold during exam season.


Visualize your success

Visualization is a common mental technique recommended by psychologists and Olympic coaches alike to help you hone in on a goal. The idea is once you visualize something happening, you can make it happen. Like a figure skater might envision themselves stepping onto the ice, landing a jump perfectly, and receiving a top score, you can visualize the details of opening a test booklet and flying through each question with ease, recalling all your information, and receiving the grade you deserve.  This mental imagery is proven to affect attention, memory, and motor control. So, envisioning your success actually trains your brain for improved performance.


Set goals like a gold medalist

For Olympic success, you have to go beyond setting a single goal. While it’s obviously best to keep this big picture in mind, athletes and coaches tend to break down the big picture into smaller goals and specific tasks that need to be accomplished to reach their desired result. They’ll even specify how to finish each of the small tasks and when. Scheduling is key to setting realistic stepping stones to a daunting end goal. Take note from one Olympic swimmer’s coach who put goal reminders on their athlete’s kickboard, and keep reminders for these goals where you will see them every day until they’re reached whether that’s on a sticky note against your bathroom mirror or a simple reminder on your phone.


Try mental cross-training

You’ve probably heard of cross-training in terms of workouts that feature a mixture of exercises that focus on varying parts of the body. Many athletes use cross-training to improve their overall performance. While the term derives from physical exercise combos, it can apply to a mental game too! In the process of studying for an exam, don’t stick to only a single method for understanding and remembering important material. For example, simply reading your lecture notes only applies to one cognitive function. Try training the neural connections you use for recall with flash cards, or form auditory links by reading your notes aloud. With this method, you can be on your way to more dynamic and more effective results after each study session!


Rely on your team

Although we don’t see them all standing on the podium, behind every Olympian is a huge support group of people that have helped each athlete get to where they are. This group works alongside Olympians in their journey to success. Stress can be isolating, so it’s important not to forget the amount of people who can act as your resources for guidance, motivation, and positivity. Contact your TAs for help, set up a study group with peers, or get encouragement from your friends. Your road to success doesn’t have to be a lonely one.


Believe in yourself

Most importantly, Olympians have to get rid of those voices of doubt and negativity in their head once they step onto the ice or snow. Although this step is the most challenging, especially when nerves or feelings of anxiety get in the way, confidence proves to be a driving force in achievement – both athletic and academic. When you walk into an exam, level with yourself, accept that you can’t always end up with absolute perfection but don’t assume that you’ll always end up with miserable failure either. If you believe that you can make your goals happen, all of your hard work will get you to the top of that podium, just like you imagined. You’ve got this!