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The marathon isn’t over yet: Avoiding semester burnout

By Rachael Allen, 3rd year Kinesiology student

Every time exam season rolls around, I flash back to December of first year and cringe. I started out in sciences in first year, with the dreaded back-to-back-to-back exams leading to the big finale: MATH 121. I remember being so disciplined. I would arrive at Douglas Library and take the three flights of stairs down to the lowest level at 8:00am. I would work non-stop with the only breaks spent walking to refill my water bottle. I would do this until it was time to climb those three flights back up at 10:00pm, and emerge with 14 hours of studying under my belt.

Every day I would dedicate myself to this intense study hibernation, regardless of the level of sleep I got, regardless of whether I had just written an exam, and regardless of my mental well being. Sounds pretty neat, being able to sit down and focus for that amount of time while retaining the information? Not so neat though, when that focus disappeared and the burn out set it.

Finally, when the MATH 121 exam rolled around, I sat down at 9:00am and found myself completely distracted and unable to concentrate. I couldn’t recall the material I had studied and the reality was that I really didn’t care. I didn’t understand why my 40+ hours of “studying” left me so unprepared to write this final but I was too obsessed with the train I was boarding at 1:30 to really try. I ended up handing in my exam, incomplete and uninterested completing it, after only 90 minutes. I cabbed immediately to the train station, absurdly early, and sat for hours thinking of getting away from Queen’s and leaving the semester behind me.

Since this dreadful experience 2 years ago, I have since learned that semesters are a marathon, and should be treated as such. The 1:30 train isn’t going to change, no matter if you rush or take your time getting through the exam season. Burning out can be the result of poor study habits and not enough self-care.

Queen’s Student Academic Success Services and Learning Strategies has since been my primary influence in learning to avoid burn out. With resources like the exam study schedule, I am able to have scheduled breaks in my day, which allows for refocus and material consolidation while encouraging self-care. With emphasis on sleep, proper eating, and exercise, I have also learned that 14 hours of straight studying can be condensed into an efficient 9 hours when you give yourself opportunities to recharge.

Above all, don’t forget that your wellness is more important than your grades. Living like a zombie and burdening yourself with stress are not they way you should be experiencing life at Queen’s. By using the learning strategies resources, you’ll find yourself able to succeed academically while also remaining motivated and happy! 🙂

Good luck to all!


Photo courtesy of Queen’s University under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.