Exam season

Ria Walls highlights the importance of self-care during the demanding exam period

It is clear that exam season is upon us when the library begins to fill up at 9am. At this time of year, a can of Monster opening echoing through the Lecky is the biggest thrill for the majority of students each day. The all-too-familiar anxieties and worries creep back as we enter the run-up to deadlines, assessments and tests. Academic burnout and chronic exhaustion are feelings mutually understood by the student population across campus.

We need to look after ourselves and our overall well-being now more than ever since it is very easy to become overwhelmed, especially with the common culture of leaving deadlines until the very last minute (we’ve all been there). But it doesn’t have to be as stressful as we make it. By stepping back and taking small but powerful measures to ensure a healthy exam season, we are automatically setting ourselves up for higher chances of success. 

While we attempt to survive the day on four coffees, an energy drink, a few hours of sleep and a slice of toast, it is important to take a step back and take active measures to ensure our mental and physical states don’t suffer at the hands of exams and assessments. To fuel brain power and give yourself energy it is crucial to try to eat substantial meals before, during and after the endless hours spent in the library. Drinking water and getting a good night of sleep are also key elements to help you have a productive day. I know it seems simple we’ve been told these things since we sat exams in school but I often find myself not bringing my water bottle, or sitting up until 3am on my phone when I need to be in the library the following morning. How are we meant to be productive when we treat our bodies like this? 

“Not everyone can work for hours on end effortlessly. If you feel yourself slacking, listen to your body.”

Not everyone can work for hours on end effortlessly. If you feel yourself slacking, listen to your body. Go for as many breaks as you need, regardless of the fact that the person opposite you hasn’t moved from their seat for four hours. Don’t compare your own personal progress and needs to others, but instead do what is best for you. If you find yourself sitting and listening to the cogs turn in your brain, trust me when I say you’re not alone! Sometimes it is better when you feel nothing is being processed to call it a day. There is no point pushing yourself when you just need to step away, clear your head and try again tomorrow. Your body will thank you for resting.

When you read your exam timetable and write out the list of pending deadlines it can be easy to feel like you don’t have enough time. This is a lie. There is always time to achieve what you want to achieve. You are more capable than you think. We all need to cut ourselves some slack. While reflecting on previous exam periods can be pretty painful, have a look back and remember all those times that you thought you didn’t have time. You pull through each year. 

On top of this, exam results are not an accurate indication of someone’s intelligence. They show how well you can perform in a stressful timed environment. Exams don’t consider that the thousands of students being tested the same way are individuals with vastly different personalities, talents and skills. While that way may be good for some, a three-hour exam does not suit everyone. For some, even just the thought of sitting in a crowded room under time pressure, trying to remember a term’s worth of work, is extremely overwhelming. While exams are important, and it’s always a good idea to work hard for them, they truly are not an accurate reflection of someone’s worth. They don’t take into consideration so many elements of your personality, inner thoughts and talents. 

“There is no shame in asking for extensions or having time to yourself to avoid burnout and stress.”

If you do feel overwhelmed and notice your mental health declining during this period, it is important to reach out to others. You will not be alone in this; with the nights getting darker and the weather getting colder, it is a common occurrence to not feel like yourself. Cut yourself some slack and have a break. Hell, take a day off if you need to. Your mental well-being is the most important thing here, not your exam results. There is no shame in asking for extensions or having time to yourself to avoid burnout and stress. It will probably even benefit you in the long run.