Introduction

How to manage post-exam stress

How to manage post-exam stress

As we all know, exams are stressful. They take a semester’s worth of knowledge and cram it all into a two or three hour session. For someone like me who isn’t particularly fond of examinations (I much rather write final papers/assignments, as it gives me a higher degree of control over my work) the endeavour of preparing for an exam is highly stressful.

“Are my notes good enough?”
“Do I have time to do the readings I skipped during the term?”
“Do I have time to do these readings well?”

…these are the questions I end up asking myself. The fear of inadequacy in your own exam preparation — as well as the prospect of facing the unknown of what your professor is going to test you on in an exam worth half of your grade — is something we all deal with.

There is, however, another form of exam stress that doesn’t get recognized as much in general discussion on this topic and it is this which I want to touch on today. I’m talking about the exam stress that comes after you have written the test and those seeds of doubt in your ability prop  back up when it is ultimately too late to do anything about it.

December, AKA ‘the most wonderful time of the year!’

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts I recommend you follow after writing your final exams for the semester:

DON’T — Search your notes after an exam looking for answers:

We’ve all done it. You finish a particularly rough exam and, in a desperate bid to console yourself that you knew what the hell you were writing about, you immediately begin searching your notes to see if you got the test questions correct. Doing this is risky as it almost always leads to heartbreak. Either you A) got the question completely wrong, or B) you answered most of the question correctly but perhaps missed one or two points a more comprehensive answer would have had. In both instances, you will be left fretting about how you wrote the exam until the class’s final grades get posted on ROSI. After you write your exam it is simply too late to change your answers, therefore worrying about them is wasted stress. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ as they say.

DO — Use your holiday break to do something you enjoy:

This point may seem obvious to some, but the holiday break should be used as a break. At the outset of your break, the beginning of the Spring term may seem like a long way away but it will come quickly, trust me, and then it’s back to the good ol’ undergraduate grind. Also, the holiday ‘break’ only accounts for an academic break, the rest of your life doesn’t go on break and it’s easy to lose your time off to other stresses: work, family, and yes, shopping and other holiday ‘obligations’, to name a few. Furthermore, while this time of year is generally branded by advertising agencies as the ‘most wonderful time’ of all times, the fact is that for many people  the holidays are not always particularly pleasant. Try and use your time off during the holiday break to engage in something fun that you’ve neglected over the Fall term. ‘Me time’ is important in coping with student stress (and all stresses, really).

DON’T — Lose trust in your ability:

Writing a bad exam can be a deflating experience, especially if you feel like you put in a more than adequate effort in preparing for it. Keep in mind, however, that there are a myriad of factors that can lead to you writing a bad test beyond your comprehension of the course material. Perhaps you focused on the wrong material, or weren’t studying as effectively as you thought you were, or fell ill the day before — these are all plausible situations. Try to learn from your bad exam experience and use it to more effectively prepare for future tests. No one said learning was easy and there will inevitably be some roadblocks to you attaining that pristine 4.0 GPA.

DO — Resume (or begin as would be my case) routine exercise:

During the final weeks of the semester many of us are scrambling for time to get everything we need to get accomplished finished. In doing so we tend to neglect certain other important parts of our lives (loved ones, pets, video games) and exercise is often one of them. Physical activity is a good stress-buster and with all your exams completed for the semester, the four to six odd weeks you have prior to the beginning of the Spring term is an ideal time to try and get back into a semblance of an exercise routine (this advice is also doubly beneficial given that the holiday season is not really conducive to healthy eating habits).

DON’T — Talk to your classmates about the test you just wrote:

In a similar vein to that of my above “Don’t” — talking with your classmates about their test answers can be highly stressful if they responded to the exam questions differently than you did. This is especially true for multiple choice tests in which more than one possible answer seemed plausible. The risk is that your classmates — especially if they’re your friends — may be good at persuading you that an answer you chose that you thought was correct (and very well might be) was in fact incorrect as they chose something different. Trust in your own ability and talk to your friends about something other than school!

DO — Be productive!:

Somewhat contradictory with the above “DO” — the holiday break is an excellent time for you to catch-up/get ahead of your workload. Have a year-long class in which you neglected to do 75 per cent of the readings for in the Fall term? The break offers the perfect time to catch up. The more academically productive you are over the break will inevitably result in your Spring term being a little less stressful. Pre-emptive stress busting is a form of stress busting, so if you feel as though the second half of your year is going to be particularly difficult and busy, there’s no harm in preparing ahead of time!

So what are some of your DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to post-exam stress? Let me know in the comments below!

– Matteo

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