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How to de-stress before examinations


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To ace your examinations you need self-control and peace of mind as much as you need to prepare the right amount of material in sufficient depth.

48 days until 1st examination

Much is said here about writing essays, motivating yourself, making the most of your notes and other essential stuff for the daily life of a student. But sometimes, our best intentions and plans fall short of one key thing: how to manage all that under the pressure of an upcoming deadline, examinations in this case. During the highly stressful period of examinations, we start second-guessing ourselves, over-spread our efforts, or focus too intensely on just one thing, etc. To ace your examinations you need self-control and peace of mind as much as you need to prepare the right amount of material in sufficient depth.

I have a few strategies that help me to keep my sanity almost intact through the whirlwind of emotions and information that the examination period brings. Here I list a few.

Delegate, delegate, delegate

I am a bit of a control freak, which is why I tend to pile things upon my shoulders senselessly. I would rather do something myself than having someone else doing it and risking not having the precise result I have in mind. Come examination time, this tiny little trait of mine just makes life very hard. It is clearly not possible to keep the habitual degree of control I have over things and devote as much time as possible to my studies, especially with the degree of focus required at such a critical time. So I have to let go a bit. I have to accept that for the next few weeks, I cannot be on top of everything. In this case, it is of paramount help to have an adequate web of support surrounding me: people who understand how critical this period is and are willing to alleviate my stress.

This is not the moment to have a change of heart

We have all been there. We are three weeks away from the examination, and suddenly we find a very interesting essay that we would love to add to our line of argument. Or we are afraid that we have not covered enough material, and we consider adding at least one more author to be on the safe side. For a self-proclaimed control freak like me, this is a real hurdle because sometimes you just have to accept that you simply cannot completely cover everything and always need to be hyper-safe of your choices. A change of heart about your long-term strategy is a very bad idea in this stage: nothing you do now is going to be of the same quality than something that you have gradually developed over a longer timespan. So, shut your laptop, do not print that newly found essay, and by all means, do not add anything new or completely different from what you have already studied so last minute if this is going to upset your carefully planned sessions.

Look back

Another moment when I tend to second-guess myself a lot is when I am just one or two weeks shy of the first examination. I always have this why-did-I-register-for-examinations-I-know-nothing-at-all moment. Part of the issue is the fact that when you delve into a topic of interest, you also realise that it is far from a clear-cut and easily portioned chunk of knowledge. Rather, it is an almost infinite mass of thoughts and ideas piled like waves upon waves in the ocean. You have to learn to cohabit with that vastness and realize that what you have learned during a single year of study is but a speck of the whole theoretical approach. However, one thing you can do is a to consider your progress. When you are afraid of the deadline, just take a look at the path you have left behind. Are you really going to stop now? No way! You have come too far to just chicken out now!

Look ahead

Conversely, if looking back does not do the trick, look beyond examinations. Last year I told you about my bucket list. I am doing the same this year around. Just jotting down all the wonderful things I am going to do when I finish my last examination cheers me up a lot. My mornings, which are usually devoted to studying, will suddenly be free and can be filled with many activities that I have been putting off because I did not have the time for them. Think about the glorious feeling of having done your best, having finished another year and being free for a few months to just do whatever you want with your free time.

Ditch the books (temporarily)

Sometimes, looking back and looking forth will not cheer you up. Sometimes nothing will do. In that case, ditch the books. Efforts spent in a bad mood, grudgingly reading will feel like a loss of time and only contribute to intensifying doubts about yourself and your abilities. You do not want that. Close the books, close the notebooks, and do something else. Re-read your favourite book ever, have a cup of tea, bake something, mow your lawn, doodle, whatever. Just avoid the negative mindset, even for a brief lapse of time. This will freshen up your thoughts so you can jump back in.

Write on

I have already told you some of the benefits of journaling. Honestly, writing is one of the best outlets for when I feel stressed, and if journaling is just not your cup of tea, you can devise creative ways to de-stress while writing. Describe what a world without any type of examinations would be like. Imagine the worst possible exam situation you could have and write about it. Describe a post-apocalyptic world à la Mad Max where examinations are weapons. You choose.

These are just a few strategies you could use to avoid the negative psychological (and sometimes even physical) effects of examination stress. Whatever your choice, do not let stress drown you. Reach out, talk, decompress a bit. You’ve got this.

Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.