‘Tis the season once again at universities across the country: the never-ending brawl for a place in the library, Eduroam crashing every 15 minutes or so and the beautiful weather taunting you, along with your friends, who chose a degree without exams and are now sitting in the sun with a pitcher of Pimms. The summer term of university is without a doubt the best and worst in the annual cycle, bringing with it sun and parties but also the dreaded exam period.
Exam stress is a systemic issue in universities across the country, with executive bodies at different institutions looking at creative ways to combat it. Modelled upon the success of a program to alleviate loneliness in care homes, some unions (including our own) have opted to bring furry companions onto campus, annually inviting dog owners into the LCR for students to pet.
Other methods of de-stressing have been looked at by educational bodies – with recent research by the Edinburgh Sports Union showing that even short bursts of exercise (as low as ten minutes) can increase alertness and a student’s positive mood. If you look at the sheer weight of research into exam stress and whether it links to mental health issues, one may question the efficacy of exams. The nations rated highest in terms of educational excellence avoid examination at school, opting instead for positively reinforced learning. While the debate rages on over exams are in fact a force for evil or not, our current predicament means we have to accept them as the master of our fates in terms of whether we graduate or not. Although not necessarily scientific, I have compiled a guide that has got me through two years of exams that, in my final year, should be passed along, and don’t involve the sacrifice of your mental health.
First – get to know your work cycle. My most productive hours were from between about 10pm to 2am. You don’t have to be an early riser to be successful, just make sure that you schedule in a time where you will hit the books. Sticking to this meant I got enough done each day.
Second – SLEEP. It’s fine to do late nights in the library if you also make time to sleep. I thoroughly recommend getting a sleep cycle app, especially for naps. There is, unfortunately, a right way to sleep, and this will improve your overall mood and make you more productive.
Third – schedule in breaks. Although it may seem counterproductive, looking after yourself is crucial to lowering exam stress and getting more done. Make sure you set a time, relatively frequently, to take a few minutes off. I am unconvinced by apps that block all social media, as isolation from friends can increase pressure and the feeling of frustration and loneliness during exams. The carrot is also much healthier than the stick. We are naturally fallible creatures – don’t punish yourself for running over on a break by cancelling the next one.
In the words of psychologist Amos Tversky, “If you don’t waste hours, you waste years” – taking five minutes extra off won’t make you fail. Make sure to communicate with your peers if it’s getting too much, and don’t be afraid to contact Nightline. It is an incredible service a stones’ throw from the Library, and if work is getting on top of you, they’re available from 8pm to 8am for a cup of tea and a chat.