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Keep Calm and Carry On

I vividly remember the first time I seriously considered dropping out of university. It was during the first exam period, and due to bad planning, procrastination and poor coping skills; I found myself on the verge of some sort of breakdown. My exam schedule was hectic. I had six or seven finals during a two week period. I had not been keeping up with course readings, so imagine my dismay when most of my professors confirmed that all course materials would be fair game for testing. It was a couple of days before the first of my exams (which of course, is when I finally decided to start studying), and I just remember feeling absolutely defeated. I would look down at my piles of textbooks, slides, and incomplete notes; and I would feel myself get more and more hopeless. I was so convinced that I had messed up my university career, because there was absolutely no way I was going to be prepared enough to pull off decent grades. I just wanted to forget about everything, and try the whole university thing again in another year. I was very lucky to have supportive friends, because they managed to talk me out of giving up. With an admittedly unhealthy combination of living at the library for two weeks, consuming questionable amounts of energy drinks, and attending any review sessions held for my courses; I somehow managed to just squeak through those finals.

I can’t say that I’ve never fallen back into the trap of poor planning and procrastination, but years of being a university student have taught me a few things about dealing with exam stress.

  1. Keep Calm and Carry on- Sometimes the best thing you can do, especially if you are feeling completely overwhelmed, is to take a few deep breaths and get on with things. I’ve been in exams where I am so worried about how I will do, that I’m not even focusing on the actual exam. I have to force myself to calm down and remember that the best thing I can do is actually answer the questions on the exam using what I can remember of the course material. It would be unfortunate to spend all my time getting ready for a test, only to let test anxiety override all my work. If you suffer from test anxiety, Learning Skills Services are a great source of information and support on handling stress during exams.
  2. Be like a boy scout and always be prepared – I always find that the more prepared I am, the less anxious and more confident I become. For exams, this means giving myself enough time to study and get through all the course material. Of course, when it comes to course work, keeping up with course readings and attending as many lectures, tutorials, and seminars that I can, makes studying a lot smoother.
  3. Give yourself time – Sometimes it feels like the more you have on your plate, the more likely things are to go wrong. When getting ready for exams, giving yourself extra time to deal with anything that comes up in your life can be a huge lifesaver. I remember a couple of years ago; I got food poisoning the night before an 8:00am final. I was so sick the whole night, but I had given myself enough time to get ready that I was comfortable writing the test the next morning. If I had procrastinated, there was no way I could have written that test. I would have had to defer it and spend even more time making sure I kept up with the course material. Giving myself time actually saved me some time.

Hopefully these tips are useful, and I would love to hear how you deal with exams in the comments section below. Good luck on your finals!