Surviving the chaos – Making it through final exams unscathed


To say that the calendar year for the average full-time student is chaotic would be a significant understatement. To put it mildly, if education is the game of thrones, then the lead up to final exams is like waiting for winter to come to Winterfell. There is perhaps nothing as stressful and time consuming in a student’s life, then the struggle to stay up to date and in alignment with all due dates, all upcoming presentations, all revision, and all outside activities (balance is key, and students must be able to have a life outside of college or university as well). There always comes a point in the semester where it seems like all the due dates are happening within seconds of one another, and there is almost too much work going on to possibly can take equal care with every aspect of student life. It can be easy to get lost in the chaos of the moment, but there are ways to ease the stress and neutralise the anxiety (even if it is only by a little).

The truth about higher education is that it is hard work. It is hard work, but it is work that nearly always pays off (both literally and figuratively) because the advantage of having obtained a degree opens doors and windows that may be off the beaten track (meaning that a degree allows for the possibility of opportunities that are not always – if ever – in the realm of possibility for professionals without a degree under their belt). University teaches students many valuable lessons and skills – and not all of them happen in the classroom. The hard work never seems to stop. Students that can turn out a professionally written research paper time and again, and students that must grapple with their wording and grammar to get by with a passing grade, operate on two different planes.

While it may sound like the students have different capabilities (and they very well could), what may come as a surprise is that the gap between preparation and achievement can be closed more easily that one might think. It comes down to priorities and dedication. Prioritising college or university before other factors in life can be difficult, particularly if a student must work as well as study, to earn a living and/or pay their bills. Nobody should have to quiet their jobs, but they should not have to sacrifice study time either. Finding a job that is flexible around study time – whether that is a part-time job, or a flexible full-time environment (such as remote work, for example) – can make all the difference in the world when it comes to academic performance.

Prioritising school, work, quality time with loved ones, and quality time alone, can feel like a lot, but if one sits down and makes a list, factoring in scheduled time slots for things like classes and shifts, it is more than doable. Learning to prioritise is where success begins. Additionally, being prepared before the semester even begins will have a profound impact on the way that a student is able to cope throughout the term. Even if the semester has not yet started, most colleges or universities release the upcoming semester due dates and examination times – and even course outlines and textbook lists – online prior to the commencement of the coming semester. Taking the time to write in all class times, due dates, and exam times into a diary or Google calendar leaves one feeling organised and ready to tackle the coming workload.

This also makes it easier to know when work, school, and personal time can fit in around one another, so having all commitments in the one calendar space is definitely beneficial, for obvious reasons. Having a routine one can refer to and rely on to keep things in check works wonders for a busy individual, and is good practice for future organisation. As a student, having a routine is paramount to maintaining a busy schedule without losing oneself in the fray. Just as having the basics mapped out is an obvious advantage, the approach to study plays a significant role in how the semester – and any assessments – play out. Students that work out solidified periods of time during each day to commit to study excel because they are organised and ready to adapt to shifting priorities. The opposite can also be true, provided that the flighty, run-with-the-day mode works for the kind of person a student is, without getting too chaotic.

Being a student is tough work, especially when the inevitable point during the semester approaches where all the due dates are happening within the span of anywhere between twenty-four and seventy-six hours. When the chaos of an assessment block begins to swirl through the air, it can be immensely difficult to pull back, take a deep breath, and refocus. With due dates looming and upcoming exams in the back of one’s mind, it is easy to understand how it can begin to feel like there is no way out, nowhere to go to get a little realignment in order. However, making it through final assessments demands organisation, dedication, and grit, and students who can offer those up while finding their perfect balance put themselves in an extremely advantageous position. As the saying goes, “nothing worth having comes easily”.

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