As we head back from Winter Breaks we enter the final exam season for high school students. This is a time full of summative assignments, final exams, tests and more essays. A time truly many students dread. This time may feel uncertain for some, some may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and may feel that they don’t know how to appropriately tackle all the assignments that await them.
Although this time may be difficult, it is not impossible to get through it successfully. Within this article we will touch on various aspects of concerns when it comes to exam/finals season. We will speak on the idea of stress and stress management, time management and tips, and how one can work towards balancing school (or work) and the rest of their life, while emphasizing the importance of mental health as well. Read on for some tips and tricks to help ease you into this final exam season.
Stress is a psychological reaction that happens when an individual is in a situation that they feel they cannot manage. Research has shown that approximately 45% of teenagers aged 13-17 and 67% of university students have experienced stress at least once, so you surely are not alone!
Stress can come in a variety of forms and depending on the type of situation an individual is in, it can be mental stress, physical stress or a combination of both. With mental stress, common symptoms include irritability, difficulty concentrating, a loss of appetite and potentially depression and anxiety. With physical stress, common symptoms include chest pain, upset stomachs, trouble sleeping, body/headaches. Additionally, stress can affect an individual emotionally.
To deal with stress, it is important to understand that recognizing some of the symptoms listed above is crucial. First, determine what type of stress is happening. Is it more physical, mental, emotional, a combination of two or maybe, all three? Regardless of the type of stress, the first step is to take a step back from the situation present. Stepping away allows the brain to realize that the situation happening is escapable. Then, use deep breathing methods. The Box Breathing method has been shown to relax the body and can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This simple method requires a cycle of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, breathing out through the mouth for 4 seconds and then holding again for 4 seconds; hence the name Box Breathing. After stepping back and doing the box breathing method, depending on the type of stress, take one of the following approaches:
*** As much as possible, try to avoid the usage of over the counter medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
It’s easy to get stressed over small or uncontrollable situations, but it’s harder to avoid getting stressed. Below are a few ways to avoid stress:
Avoid Cramming Last Minute
Whether it’s through procrastination, forgetfulness or last minute studying, cramming is something everyone has done. It is an old habit that can result in an individual experiencing all three types of stress and the majority of the time, has a negative effect on one’s mindset; leading to an increase in symptoms of anxiety.
To avoid cramming in things last minute, prioritize what tasks need to be done, and then make an estimate on how long is needed to complete or study each task. Set reminders for upcoming due dates and major assessments so that cramming does not become a habit.
Most individuals tend to do a “marathon” when it comes to studying and sometimes forget that the brain also needs its rest. Not taking breaks can result in negative impacts on the body. Studies have shown that taking breaks during studying increases the brain’s capacity of retaining content and reduces mental fatigue. It has also been shown that those who take breaks while studying tend to have an increase in energy, productivity and even have more motivation.
When implementing breaks in a study schedule, it is important to note that the amount of studying and the length of the break should be reasonable with one another. For example, the pomodoro technique allows users of it to work for twenty five minutes followed by a five minute break. Other techniques that work include Spaced Repetition, The Feynman Technique and Active Recall.
Just because it is a stressful time of the year does not mean an individual can neglect their own heath. Self care equally contributes to reducing stress because of the fact that dopamine (the feel good hormone) is produced. Happiness and feeling good about yourself can lower cortisol levels in the body. Taking care of oneself can increase motivation and energy. In fact, feeling good about oneself is the key to being able to do anything! So whether it’s taking a walk, eating outside or watching a movie, it is important to do something you like or a hobby of yours during these stressful times.
Time management is currently a hard skill that everyone is strongly recommended to have. It is a term used widely. No matter what roles you take, you always need time management.
However, what is time management exactly? There will be thousands of answers if thousands of people are answering, but there will possibly be two keywords that come up often: schedule and organization. These skills help us to create a plan and organize our time efficiently to get things done.
Time management is not a hard thing to do, however, there are always tools to assist us and help us plan our days in a more time-efficient way. Therefore, here are some tools and habits to help you rebuild your schedule and increase your time management skills!
Use a calendar app
Using a calendar app might be the best way to make your day more visible. It would definitely help you to know what times you are free and what times you are busy with work! Some popular apps in this area are Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook Calendar, Apple Calendar, etc. It might take a bit of time to find the app you like to use, but it is a top way that is worth trying out!
Use a planning app
Using a planning app can help one to know what things they still need to do. Some of the apps have calendar features and other add-ons that increase the productivity of the user. These apps are also sometimes called the “second brain”. Some of the outstanding candidates to try out are Notion, Evernot, and Taskade!
Use timers and alarms
Sometimes, small reminders might not work and you might be unaware of the time you have to do certain tasks. Therefore, using something loud that catches your attention will help you to keep track of your time spent! It is usually a feature that comes along with your phone, so go try it out!
School/Work-Life Balance and Mental Health
As individuals we have various obligations, and to be successful in completing all those obligations, it is vital to understand how to balance school (or work) with one's personal life. Surely, doing well within one's academics is a goal everyone should have and should work towards, but it is also equally as important to ensure you maintain goals for personal growth and leisure time.
School/work)-life balance is this idea of being able to navigate one's personal life while still being actively engaged in being successful within school or within the workplace. This idea of school-life balance contains ideas of knowing when to take breaks and not pushing your body into a tough study/work schedule that results in awful burnout, further reducing productivity and wellness.
With exam/final season around the corner, there are various methods one can implement to prioritize this idea of school-life balance within their daily routines. To begin, to perform well, one must have optimal brain function, and optimal brain function is achieved by both emotional and physical well being. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, communication and time with loved ones are vital in enhancing both physical and emotional wellbeing, which is an asset in attaining optimal brain function, resulting in better success.
Further, school/work-life balance doesn't necessarily mean that equal proportions of your day are spent on working on either school/work or your life. This idea of “balance” is unique to each individual, and the only way to find your optimal balance is to make an effort to try out various different routines and schedules and find one that allows you to optimize your time the most, bettering your overall performance.
Studying/working too much does not always lead to better outcomes. Various researchers have found that there is a “too much” when it comes to work, and we can apply that to studying as well. Taking breaks allows one to refresh, allowing us to further better our chances of success at the task ahead of us.
And lastly, this school/work-life balance is not complete without prioritizing one's mental health. Mental health IS health, it is a state of one's psychological, emotional and social well-being, which affects how we cope and act, especially when dealing with stress. Focusing on improving one's mental health allows one to improve one's overall wellbeing, as mental and physical health are both factors of well-being. Taking care of one's mental health is vital not only for the individual themselves, but also for dear ones surrounding them. Some easy tips to work on bettering one's mental health include things like being social, staying active, meditating, resting sufficiently, and maintaining a balanced diet.
These are a few simple tips and ideas that we can all benefit from and can all use to help navigate this month of final assignments, tests and exams. A stressful season for sure, but one which definitely all students can get through with the correct practices and techniques.
We wish you the best within this exam/finals season, and you learned something meaningful from this post.