Student Life

Exam-season survival guide

If there’s one thing we can learn from Montreal’s frigid winters, it’s that they always beget spring; a period of stasis, then, is essential for growth. As we enter a new season—as well as exam season—remember that amid the hustle culture of academia, rest itself is a radical act of resistance. To help you prioritize your well-being during this transitional period, the Tribune has compiled a list of simple reminders. Though they may seem obvious, they are important to remember nonetheless.  

  1. Always ask for an extension 

Asking for extensions can be anxiety-inducing. If you’re feeling too ashamed or intimidated to reach out, just remember: Professors and TAs are people too. In reaching out, even just to check in, you’re giving others the opportunity to help you. Many are happy to accommodate students or compromise on deadlines to an extent. There’s no need to trauma-dump in your email—keep it simple and polite. Outline briefly where you’re struggling and offer a time frame or plan that would allow you to complete the work in full. If the deadline is imminent, consider requesting an incomplete, or K grade—an alternative option of which many professors aren’t aware. Since they do not impact your GPA, K grades are a good last resort if completing a course is just out of reach. Get in contact with your professor ASAP to iron out the details.

  1. Get enough sleep 

With academic and personal schedules that can stretch late into the night, cordoning a full eight hours for sleep can seem unattainable. But a good-night’s rest is essential to your well-being. Ask yourself if ratcheting up sleep debt is worth it: Sleep deprivation will impact your mood and productivity, and can seriously compromise your health. Some studies even suggest that it can take up to four days of adequate rest to make up just one hour of lost sleep. Yikes!

Resting will only improve your GPA in the long term. Instead of powering through the week and hibernating all weekend, try to wake at a consistent time and take short naps to supplement the rest (ha)—but remember not to nap too close to bedtime, and be sure to set an alarm to avoid the dreaded nap hangover. Classes are ending; so too are any dreaded 8:30 a.m. lectures. Try switching up your studying to align not with your academic time table, but your body’s schedule. If you’re most productive at night, don’t feel pressured to be an early bird. No matter your specific chronotype, at the end—ish—of the day, just sleep. 

  1. Normalize having “you time”

“Live in the moment” is an adage that rings closer to a tired cliché belonging on a Forever-21 T-shirt than actionable advice. Yet it still holds true: There is more to life than non-stop hustle. Between exam cramming or paper bullshitting, there still exists slow, quiet moments to appreciate. Try your best to set aside breaks for yourself without screen time. Although there’s nothing easier than mindlessly scrolling, you’re likely to feel more guilty than invigorated in the end. Consider spending a study break engaging in an activity you’ll feel accomplished in completing: Listen to a new playlist on a walk; cook a hearty meal; bake a tasty treat. If you’re tight on time, clearing your mind can be as simple as breathing mindfully. Practicing mindfulness techniques can also prove helpful in calming yourself down if any mid-exam panic begins to set in. 

  1. And remember: Don’t define yourself by your work

Being invested in studying is a good thing—that passion is precious. However, defining your self-worth by the quality or quantity of your work can destabilize your sense of self when you inevitably fail to surpass your self-imposed and impossibly high standards. And if you instinctively cringed from the word “fail” in that last sentence, take a moment to reflect. Don’t be afraid of failure. External factors like scholarships or job applications can make it seem like your life hinges on your grades—but valuing a high GPA for whatever reason is not mutually exclusive to the responsibility you have to your own health. The way your work is received ultimately does not define you, and neither does a letter on a transcript. Amidst toxic attitudes in academia that your worth is tied to your work, it’s a powerful and liberating act to decide that the work you produce and the grades you receive are only but a reductive representation of you. Plus, distancing yourself from your academic performance can be healthy, actually. (Even though acing an exam is a hell of an addicting dopamine hit, we know!)

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