The end of the semester marks the beginning of a chaotic few weeks during which textbooks become blurry lines and highlighters dry up, after leaving pink streaks across my face as I lie sprawling across a table in Irving K Barber.
During exam season, stress is almost inevitable, but not necessarily unwelcomed. I have come to realize over the last few years that a certain level of stress is needed to kick in the adrenaline and help me focus when studying. However, the key for me is balance.
Sure, knowing that my first final is in two days is always a good motivator to hit the books, but I need to be careful not to let stress take me to a place where I’m tempted to run away to the mountains (in abundance here in Vancouver), sing “Let it Go,” or build ice castles with previously unknown magical powers (I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter).
Here are a few tips from the wizarding world that have helped me get through the ever dreaded finals season:
1. “When you are dreading something, and would give anything to slow down time, it has a disobliging habit of speeding up.” – J.K. Rowling
I will be the first to admit that I have tried to ‘forget’ about upcoming responsibilities, only to have them creep up, tap me politely on the shoulder, and warn me that the exam is in less than 24 hours – and the textbook is still open on chapter one.
But this scenario is not always a result of direct procrastination, but rather a lack of personal organization. Just knowing that I have three back-to-back exams in the upcoming week is not enough. I find it much more helpful to write everything down on a calendar and plot out which days I will allocate to preparing for which exam. Seeing everything laid out in front of me, instead of a jumbled panic in my head, helps me realize what to prioritize in the moment. Because I know that tomorrow is designated for re-reading texts from English 348, I can focus today on taking notes for Psychology 301 without being caught up in the idea of “oh no, I’m not going to have enough time to prepare for my other exam!”
2. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” – Albus Dumbledore
I may not be Harry Potter faced with the Mirror of Erised, but I have certainly taken this advice to heart when it comes to facing essays and exams.
Once upon a time I was the student who immediately consulted the textbook inside my bag (or a smartphone and Google nowadays) upon leaving the exam hall to see if I included enough detail in question 15, part A to get full marks. If I did, I’d breathe a sigh of relief, able now to go on with the rest of my life in peace. However, more often than not, I would spend the next five hours stressing about how I could and should have done better. This way of thinking was extremely detrimental, and got in the way of quality study time.
Eventually I began to change the way I perceived completed exams. I now tell myself that no matter how much I prepare, after leaving the exam hall, there is absolutely nothing I can do to change the results. Stressing over the multiple choice questions I had been stuck on only serves to create unnecessary stress that does nothing to motivate me. Of course, this mindset may not work for everyone (I have friends who explain that knowing what they did wrong on the exam is calming), but it is certainly something that helps me power through the exam season!
3. “We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter’s the one, and Voldy’s gone moldy, so now let’s have fun!” – Peeves the Poltergeist
Yes, I am most certainly comparing final exams to Lord Voldemort.
In all seriousness, I find that thinking about life after exams is a very grounding and calming experience. It can be easy to forget that as stressful as exams are, they only last for two to three weeks and a blissful period of relaxation follows. Sometimes, I take it a step further and try to plan out my weeks after exams are finished, so I can have something tangible to look forward to.
Pinterest is a website/phone app I love to explore, as someone who is a huge fan of DIY and artsy projects. I also enjoy planning potential getaways, or even just activities in the city with friends. Even a quick “that sounds amazing, let’s plan it after exams” can give me something to look forward to during the moments when studying can seem endless.
UBC has many great tips and resources on their Stress Less for Exam Success page that you can use to find methods of de-stressing, not only during exam season, but also for the rest of the year. Feel free to comment below and share what works for you!
Photo: UBC Library’s 15th-century Book of Hours, part of the Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections (UBC Library Flickr)
Photo credit: Don Erhardt