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How To Avoid Stress Without Living In Denial: A Guide to Exams

Stress seems to be part of life. At University it reaches its peak around May/June, the loveliest months of the year, and you are stuck in the library. It’s depressing, I know. However, there is a way of approaching exams or deadlines without anxiety and you can come out the other side unscathed, if a little tired. As a recent graduate I thought I could share wisdom that has been passed on to me, as well as some of my own experiences. 

1. Start early: We’ve all heard it before, but procrastinating will cause you more stress in the long run. It’s easy to draw up elaborate revision timetables instead of actually revising – then you realise it’s two days until the exam and panic sets in. Panic is efficient, but it will wreck your nerves after a month and is not the best way to live your life or perform at your best.

2. Timetable: Make sure you know when your exams are, you don’t need to plan every minute of every day, but you do need to be leave yourself enough time for each exam or deadline. I know people who prepared for the wrong exam because they didn’t read the timetable properly. Don’t make the same mistake. Knowing your exam timetable, gives you a sense of control because you can plan your time, and it’s one less thing to worry about, so think about it early.

3. Rest: Rest is vital. Find a routine with rest built in that works for you. My suggestion is to split the day into 3 sections (morning: 9-12, afternoon: 1-5, evening 6-9) and work a maximum of 2 sections a day, only 1 if you can manage it, but rest at least once a day. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to work all day, you will burn out or procrastinate more. Don’t feel guilty about resting; your revision will be more effective in the long run. Firstly, you won’t be as tired so you won’t get distracted as easily. Secondly, if you’re planning to work solidly for a month and then have fun, your brain will be living in the future, not able to concentrate on the task in hand, and you’ll probably stop caring about your exams. Don’t get stressed, but don’t live in denial.

4. Church: Part of rest is taking the Sabbath off. Make sure you get to Church and Connect (Exodus 16). Church gives you moral support and it is so easy to try and do everything in your own strength, but in reality God’s power is ‘made perfect in our weakness’. We can do immeasurably more when we trust Him than when we try and go it alone.

5. Stay Active: You might not want to go on a 30 minute jog, but taking a ten minute walk around the block will kick your brain in gear better than any TED Talk. When you’ve been staring at a wall for 15 minutes, don’t try to persuade yourself to keep working, stretch your legs, kick a ball around or have an impromptu dance session. You’ll work much better.

6. Study with friends: Whether you work best in a group or solo is very subjective, often it depends on the group in question. If you can, find people who motivate each other, who are willing to share and sharpen ideas and take turns buying coffee. Learn how you work best, but choose your study buddies wisely, don’t compete over how much revision you’ve done, it will only make you feel worse.

7. Eat Properly: Cooking is probably the last thing on your to-do list, but eating well and drinking lots of water will keep you healthy. I suggest finding a group of friends, or better still, good housemates, and take turns to cook depending on exam schedules. It’s a great way to bless each other, and you will feel the benefit when you’re eating vegetables for dinner, rather than another bag of Doritos.

8. Talk about it: Sometimes you just need to vent, if you feel you’re really struggling, it can feel incredibly lonely, so make sure you talk to people around you. ChristChurch is here to support you whether it’s your Connect leader, recent graduates, friends or Andy Tuck, find someone to talk to, don’t suffer in silence.

9. Remember the bigger picture: You have a whole life to live, and you are at the very beginning. Exams can be retaken, careers can be changed, grades can be made up next year and if you get a degree, does the grade really matter? Caring is important, but so is perspective. You don’t need the perfect career or top grade to be valued or loved. The God who created the universe is working all things for his glory, and ten marks on this essay does not improve or reduce your status in his eyes.

10. Failure: J K Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you fail by default”. Failing an exam may be a real possibility for you, but failing is part of life and so shouldn’t be a source of stress. Many of the world’s greatest people failed, (here’s a list). Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, all failed before they were successful, so if you think you’re going to fail, you might, but it might be the best thing that ever happens to you.

Image: Studying… by alex0700, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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