The Most Studious Time of the Year: Surviving Winter Exams

There are many factors that make studying for winter exams a challenge. These evaluations of student learning are held when classes are finished for the semester and holidays are right around the corner. To make matters more complicated, my birthday was always looming on the horizon during exam period—on two occasions I had to write an exam on my birthday.

By the time exams roll around, the diligent student has just spent a whole semester grappling with steady pressure from deadlines and other post-secondary obligations. When the demanding routine of a class schedule has finally given way to glorious freedom, one can’t help but feel like the holidays have already started. Moreover, when the sky darkens early in the evening and soaking-wet sleet pours down in a deluge of misery, the last thing stressed-out students feel like doing is making a trip to the library to gather textbooks and bury themselves in study materials. How does one get through this final roadblock separating the school semester from the holidays?

First, it helps to know your optimal study environment. Some students like to study with all the comforts of home, where a snack or a nap is mere footsteps away. Others prefer to study at their campus library because everyone there is in pretty much the same mindset: anxious about the impending exams and looking for a place with an enforced quiet zone and computers without video games installed on them.

Next, you need to know the material. If you were absent for some classes and are missing notes, you need to get on the ball and find someone from your class who is willing to lend you theirs! Go over all the material you have and identify the topics that you know will be on the exam, and then do something to separate these topics from any extraneous information (highlighting works in a pinch). Make it a priority to figure out any concepts that you don’t fully understand. A friend or classmate can come in handy here as well—don’t be shy to ask for help or for a second opinion on anything you aren’t 100 percent sure about! If possible, book an appointment with your instructor to help clarify areas that are fuzzy to you.

Finally, you need to find an effective way to manage and relieve stress. Always take regular breaks from studying to engage in an activity that relaxes you. Listen to music, watch an episode of your favourite TV show, or even eat a whole pizza if that’s what it takes—just do something that you know will calm your nerves and give your racing mind a break. As mentioned in the blog I wrote about balancing work and school, “regular exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet and scheduled intervals of downtime can all help combat stress and anxiety.” Also, never wait until the night before an exam to start studying; if you’re skimming notes five minutes before the exam starts, this will only amplify your anxiety, which will in turn cause you to forget things.

Exams don’t warrant working yourself nearly to death. When we turn to the first page of an exam, we often discover that we were worrying and fretting far more than was necessary. If you more or less know your stuff, exams rarely turn out to be as difficult as you thought they’d be. Writing exams may be a trying experience, especially for students who have multiple exams in close succession, but one way or another you will get through it!

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