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How to beat the Exam Time Blues

By Cristina Valeri, 3rd-year English student

As a third year university student, I can say with confidence that at least four times throughout the past two years, I have seriously questioned not only my sanity but the meaning of life in general. These mental doubts usually strike around December and April exams. True, the insanity in December could be attributed to my somewhat maniacal enthusiasm for Christmas which usually manifests itself in listening to the Michael Buble Christmas album four, sometimes five, times a day. But I think it’s much more likely that it’s those old Exam Time Blues.

The Exam Time Blues usually affect people who use phrases such as, “I HAVE to do well on this exam”; “It will totally screw up my GPA if I mess up this exam” or “If I don’t do well on this exam, I won’t get a good mark in the course. If I don’t get a good mark in the course, I won’t get into grad school and then I won’t become a (insert career here) and I’ll spend my life in my parents’ basement!” If you find yourself saying any of these things, you may be susceptible to the Exam Time Blues.

How to identify the Exam Time Blues:

  1.   You haven’t brushed your hair or shaved in four to five days.
  2.   You begin to forget what life was like before exams.
  3.   Your friends are tweeting/ Facebook messaging you to check if you’re still alive
  4.   You begin calculating the salary you’d have to live on if you just worked at your old high school job for the rest of your life.
  5.   Your parents and friends from other schools keep asking you about this guy you keep mentioning–Joseph Stauffer.
  6.   You find yourself having intense inner philosophical debates regarding the meaning of life and you’re not even a philosophy major.

How to beat the Exam Time Blues:

  1. The 50/10 Rule. Studying for fifty minutes and then taking a break for ten. This allows your brain to process the information and also gives you the motivation to stay focused. The ten minutes will give you time to have a snack, call your mom, or brush your hair.
  2. The 9-5 Workday. Treat school like it’s your full time job and study between the hours of 9 to 5. This way, after five you have guilt-free personal time and you can feel proud of yourself for studying all day. It is recommended to study for your exam at the actual time that the exam’s going to be that way your brain gets used to doing Advanced Functions at 9 in the morning. This rule ensures you’re keeping to a good routine.
  3. Use STING for procrastination:
    S-Select one thing to do.
    T-Time yourself.
    I-No Interruptions.
    N-No distractions.
    G-Give yourself a reward.
  4. Study with a group. 25% of studying should be done with a group. Group studying is beneficial in two ways. A) You can benefit from other people’s ideas or study strategies such as acronyms. B) Teaching others concepts or theories ensures that you have a good grasp of the information yourself. Also, you can socialize with friends in a helpful and productive way, instead of sitting all by yourself reorganizing your life plans.
  5. Eat right and exercise! Nothing makes you feel more healthy and normal than exercising and eating right. It gives you the energy to study and your brain better focus, memory, and concentration.
  6. Positive self-talk! Remember, it’s just an exam. You are not a failure or a bad person if you don’t do well. It’s completely normal to stress about exams; everybody does it at one point in their academic lives. But remember to stay optimistic! The better you feel about yourself, the better you’ll do.

So when the Exam Time Blues have got you down and not even Michael Buble’s sweet croon can make you feel like there’s more to life, just remember some of these tips and hopefully you’ll feel like your life’s headed in the right direction.

For more tips on beating exam anxiety, try our Stress and Coping Strategies module.

Photo courtesy of Matt Miller under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.