02 Nov What you can learn from athletes to improve your academic results

A few books from the first year of the Bachelor in Physics and Astronomy at the UvA. The right shoe is is a shoe especially made for the steeplechase: a steeplespike. The top shoe is a training shoe and a gold medal from the national championships.Combining study with sports. Image: Simon Grannetia

Getting through university is a lot like participating in a sports competition. Both take training, talent, stamina and determination. I should know – I’m the national 3000m steeplechase champion (2014) as well as a physics student. And I am sure students can learn a thing or two from high-level athletes. So let’s discuss some sport methods that can help you improve your study results!


  • Time out for exercise
    When you study for hours on end, you can start to feel both overwhelmed and restless. That’s when taking time out for exercise can make a big difference. Go for a run in a local park or forest, then hit the books again. The exercise clears your mind and tires your body, helping you both to focus better and sit still. This will greatly improve the quality of your study session. For me, a half hour run through the flevopark works like a charm.
  • Naps
    Taking a nap may seem like wasting time, but it enhances your productivity so much that it more than compensates for the time spent. So when studying wipes you out, take a nap for 20 or 30 minutes to refuel. If you’re lucky and have more time, make it 90 minutes. This is a full sleep cycle, with all the important sleep stages, leaving you feeling reborn. I myself can’t live without naps any more.
The 'Keukenhofbos'

A nice forest to clear your mind and tire your body. Image: Simon Grannetia

Preparing for and taking exams

  • Visualisation
    Before an exam, picture yourself working on it. Imagine as many scenarios as possible: knowing answers, not knowing answers, panicking, calming down, moving on. Visualising such things beforehand will help you stay calm when they actually happen, so one tough question doesn’t ruin your whole exam. I start visualising a week before the exams, just before I go to bed.
  • Routine
    Stick to a distinct routine on exam days, to help you get in the right mood. Your body (including your brain) will know what’s up and be ready for it. Also, routines are great to fall back on when you start to feel too anxious. Personally, I start race days ánd exam days with a ten minute jog, TNT from ACDC, and a cup of coffee one hour before exam.
  • Relaxation exercises
    Try to do some relaxation exercises  before an exam. If needed, even during an exam. It will help you stay calm and relaxed, which in turn will help you stay focused. I always use a breathing exercise when I start to stress out during a exam.


Using one or more of these methods will, eventually, improve your academic results. So give them a try, and let me know in the comments if they work for you. Or if you have any tips of your own to become a better ‘brain athlete’!


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WTF Simon

WTF Simon

Runner, Physicist, Dutch 3000m steeplechase champion, day-dreamer, sport minded and science lover

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