A Guide to Keeping Your Head in Exam SeasonNick Beasley - 9 May 2014
So we’re at the start of May - and it feels like the sun is coming out a little more and staying out a little longer. But as spring rolls into summer (albeit slowly), that doesn’t necessarily signal the start of a wind down to the lazy sunny days we’d like it to...
On the contrary, for millions, May and June mean crunch time – 7 years at school or 3 or so at uni, culminating in a series of exams and essays. And speaking as one who wrote the majority of his essays the night before they were due, this season represents more than just deadlines and exams – it’s the time at which our stress and anxiety hit new heights, and often our self worth and confidence hit new lows. It can be one of hardest, loneliest and most stressful times we’ll go through. The sun doesn’t shine very bright in an exam hall…
But exams are worth it, right?
Because our lives are important and the lives we get to live are defined by our achievements and qualifications, right? And our achievements are measured in these assessments – so in a way, these exams define the rest of our lives. Good grades mean good jobs, and good jobs mean happy lives. School<College<Uni<Job<Happiness, right?
These thoughts are consistent with what pretty much everyone experiences prior to exams.
But there isn’t one formula for doing life well and there’s a lot of stuff that happens in between each of those steps that define our lives, and they’re more than grades.
And though we all know this to be true, we don’t act like we know it. And the night before an exam, we tend to forget it altogether.
Exams are important, and I’m not telling you not to revise, on the contrary, working hard is a huge part of our spiritual growth. We are called to love God with all of ourselves and that includes our intellect. We are privileged to be in a position where we can learn and grow. But, in all of that we have to do our best to maintain perspective – don’t let grades over step their boundaries and start defining you.
Unfortunately this advice is comparable to telling someone who’s about to fly, and is scared of flying, that there’s nothing to worry about. We have to live these experiences to learn from them.
But we can make sure that while we’re living them, we’re living them right. There are practical steps we take, decisions we can make to give ourselves the best chance. So a couple of people here at the 24-7 office have come up with a few tips for getting through revising and exam season…
1. Do nothing
Get still – stop what you’re doing for a while, and don’t do anything else. Be somewhere you can relax. Breathe in and out. Pick a few verses that will help keep you calm – google some if you don’t know any – just make sure you take some time away from work. Make sure you stop. Do nothing productive with the time. Do something you can’t mark as an achievement and you can’t be assessed by. (Here is a link with some bible verses about finding peace)
2. Do something
Get active - do the opposite of that last one. Get out and moving. Go outside for half an hour. Do some exercise. Ignore the mental side and get yourself physically active for a while. Go for a run or a cycle or a walk to nowhere. Get some fresh air. Get the endorphins flowing.
3. Do something else
Get joyful - find something uncompromisingly fun to do. Go watch something funny, or eat something bad for you, go talk to someone about a non study related topic. The Joy of the Lord is your strength. Find some joy in the unproductive.
4. Do something more important
Get perspective – if things are over whelming and over stepping their boundaries in how important they decide to make themselves, make something else feel more important. Turn your eyes upwards, as they say. Read a verse or spend some time in worship, pray in the most creative or simple way you can think.
5. Don’t do it alone
This one’s not practical, but it’s a reassurance. If God is with you always then that includes in an exam hall or the last midnight before a deadline. You have the beautiful gift of not having to do this alone – don’t do it a disservice by forgetting that. Pray as you revise. Pray in the exam. It’s practically cheating it’s so helpful.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 [Msg]
And most of all, take solace in this: God doesn’t love us for our achievements. That’s something I had to come to terms with recently. He loves you cos that’s what he’s best at doing. You let yourself down, he’ll love you. You let your teachers or parents down, he still does. You let him down, he’ll still love you. A* or F he will. You can’t earn it or achieve it or study for it.
All images are used by permission in accordance with commons copyright license terms: Feature image is a derivative of the images 'Testing times ahead' by Pete and 'Revision Week: Global Warming' and 'Metric Spaces' by stuartpilbrow and 'Ateneo de Davao University High' by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ