How to stay sane during exams season
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Tips from one stressed-out person to another
Whoah, easy there! Have you seen yourself? You’re looking a little on edge. Having trouble coping with the overwhelming stress that comes with exams season? Take a deep breath, I might have a few tips to help you keep your head on your shoulders for the next couple of weeks.
1. Get in touch with your professor and your TA if you feel the need to
This is an easy one: if you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about what to study or about the subject matter, communicate that with your prof or whoever is in charge of the course as soon as possible.
Whether it’s for an essay or an exam, chances are you can benefit from having a little bit more guidance as you start preparing for a big assignment. It’ll give you a better sense of how to organize your time and your studying, and will definitely help ease that feeling of panic we all get when faced with a gigantic workload.
2. Make sure you’re using note-taking and studying methods that work for you
This sort of goes in line with the previous point, but before you even start studying or writing a big report, you should know yourself and learn how you study most efficiently.
For a long time, I thought I studied best with a group of friends because spending time with them would uplift me during a stressful exam period; but I realized that I would get distracted more often than not and get even worse anxiety the day before the exam when I had gotten little to no work done.
The same goes for even smaller aspects of studying: do you study in quiet or in loud areas? Are you more productive on a computer or writing notes by hand? Do you get thirsty or hungry easily? If so, what kind of snacks or beverages should you keep by your side? Do you know how long you can study before needing to take a break? Answering all these questions is not only going to ensure that you stay focused, but also that you can track your progress more easily and will avoid those last-minute panic attacks.
3. Build yourself a strong and reliable support group
Here are some upsetting news: the people closest to you may not be the best people to be around during periods of high stress. This absolutely doesn’t mean they’re bad people! But exam season is not the time to have more external pressure being put on your shoulders. If you know your overachieving friend makes you feel like you’re not studying hard enough, it’s okay to distance yourself from them and go at your own pace so that you keep a clear mind while you work on your own assignments.
It’s also good to have someone who you are comfortable venting to when you feel frustrated or helpless. In other words, never keep it bottled up inside! An added bonus is if you have the chance to speak to a therapist: even if (or rather, especially if) you don’t feel “stressed enough” to go to a psychologist, their whole job is to help you through difficult times, and there’s no shame in needing help with balancing everything in your life. The NUS Counseling Services could be a good place to start if you’re unsure of where to find help.
4. Find a de-stress activity that will actually de-stress you
This may be the most important tip on the list. Here are the criteria for an activity that will actually de-stress you:
it has to be completely unrelated to school or work;
it has to be something that you can do without relying on other people’s presence (so that you can do it any time);
it has to be an activity that doesn’t make you feel like you need to perform well at.
A lot of people choose something exercise-related for this activity -- my roommate LOVES to go swimming to get her mind off things -- but if you’ve grown to associate, say, running with the speed at which you can complete a kilometer, think twice before you put on your sneakers.
It completely defeats the purpose if you’re trying to be perfect at your hobby. Not only do you risk disappointing yourself, but you’re also adding more pressure on yourself if you are unable to achieve what you set out to, whether that’s playing a piano piece perfectly on the first try or mastering oil painting within a week. Some of my favorite de-stressing activities include drawing (albeit very terribly -- do NOT look at my sketchbook), creative writing, baking, playing an instrument, and photography.
5. Quick tip for future modules
Another anxiety-relieving tip I got from my psychologist: if you tend to get very nervous about big exams or essays, try to enroll in modules that separate your grade into smaller parts, like through weekly assignments or a more important participation grade.
It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s a lot less pressure on you to perform well on ten quizzes worth five per cent each than on one huge essay worth half your grade. You probably do this already, but read reviews about the courses you want to take in the future: it’ll help you decide whether a module will be too much to handle for you.
With these tips in mind, I hope you’ll be able to work as hard on your mental health as your midterm assignments. I hope I don’t sound like anybody’s mom when I say this, but make sure you drink enough water and take care of your body as well. Don’t forget to stay sane!