Guest Column: Keep your cool during exam time
Ideally, from the last day of class to our last exam, we feel just enough nervous energy to help us stay motivated and focused.
However, the reality is often less than ideal.
We may feel persistently anxious, our ability to learn and concentrate is compromised, and we have difficulty pulling back and seeing the bigger picture. Getting a perspective on anything becomes challenging, and our tolerance levels may take a dive.
Do that for long enough, and we tend to just want to escape. And escape from the task at hand, to put it mildly, is counter-productive to the outcome we envisioned in September.
The trick is to give the task of studying and writing exams just the right amount of importance, to acknowledge the increased stress and deal with it kindly, and to be wise about where we put our time, energy and attention.
Keep these three questions in mind as you go through the next few weeks:
1. Considering you have a limited amount of time, energy and attention, how are you going to divvy that up over the next few weeks?
Under high levels of stress our attention tends to be drawn to all the things that are not quite as we would like them to be. At least in our heads, if not in actual fact, we begin to juggle all the balls that our stressed brain happens to bring to consciousness (I should quit smoking…I really should fix this relationship…is this really what I want to study?).
This may all be really important, but does it need your time and attention now? What can you mindfully put aside for now and pick up again when you have more energy to give to it?
2. Considering that your body undergoes chemical changes in a state of stress, what will you do to minimize the potentially negative effects?
Your body will respond to the perceived demands by releasing chemicals that help you mobilize your energy and attention. Under studying/sitting conditions, one of the most helpful things you can do is to allow your body time to move.
This does not mean you must fit in a two hour gym work-out. Any activity that sustains a higher heart rate for about 20 minutes will help during exam time. A half-hour brisk walk around the block may make the next hour of studying twice as productive.
And, while you may not live the ideal healthy lifestyle during this time, pushing the envelope too far on sleep and nutrition can quickly take its toll.
3. Of all the people you know, who appreciates the vision you started with in September, empathizes with your struggles, and sees your gifts and talents?
There is a tendency, during exam time, to hunker down and forget to connect with the people who see the best in us, who get how hard this can be, and who can hold on to the vision when we feel like letting go.
You may not have four hours to hang out with the people who meet the qualities listed above. But who might appreciate a chance to connect, help you keep your perspective, and offer you encouragement when you need it?
When demands go up, so does the need for resources. Check out the Wellness Services website and podcasts directory for more ways to help you live well, even during exam time!
Mirjam Knapik is a registered psychologist who provides personal counseling services at MRU. She has a BA from the University of Victoria and a Ph.D. from the University of Calgary.