Exams: It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year

By Samreen Maqsood
exams the office studying session

With the first semester of university almost over, the stress of finals can take a toll on everyone’s mental health. With everyone stressing and trying to study for their final exams, I decided to prepare a list of eight tips and tricks to help students prepare for finals and maintain their mental health at the same time! 


If there’s one thing you never stop hearing in university — whether it be from your professors, TAs, or fellow peers — it’s planning. This is good for both prepping for exams and keeping yourself [mentally] sane. Get a planner or one of those big stick-on-the-wall calendars to help you keep track of all of your study sessions. Set reminders and alerts on your phone to help you stick to your plans. Make a study guide for yourself (separate from the one your teacher may have provided for you) to help you better understand the information. This way, you’ll have a clear idea of what you need to prioritize, allocating time slots for how long you will be studying for each class, and what material is most important for you to cover. It’s also going to keep your thoughts and stress levels under control! 

Start early! 

You can never start studying for finals too early. However, this doesn’t mean that you start all the way from the beginning and cram everything in. Think about the chapters that you know for sure will be on the exam (your prof or TA can hint at it or heavy-focused chapters that appear numerous times). Then, move on to things that have a possibility of appearing. Lastly, go over things that might be covered. This way, you will have nailed down the basics!

Start with the more difficult material first!

You will always hear this little tip. Start with the harder topics first because, in the beginning, you have the most mental capacity and physical energy available. You should use that to help you get through the sections you don’t understand. You can put in more effort right from the start and achieve better results. The other material you have to cover won’t seem so bad and you won’t lose your motivation to study either, as you know it will only get easier from there. This tip can also be used to help you manage your stress, as the harder things in life are what have us stressing 24/7. Once we overcome those, the rest seems easy peasy.   

Take five minutes or an hour… Or the whole day…

We’ve all done this. We promise ourselves we’re going to take a 5-10 minute break, max half an hour. But that half an hour turns into a full hour, that hour turns into hours, hours turn into days, days turn into the entire semester, and now you’ve gone so far, you can’t seem to turn back. Yeah, we’ve all been there. But it is crucial to note how effective and helpful breaks can be. It will help you relax and refocus your thoughts but also strengthen your concentration when you come back. There are several ways to take a break, all depending on your personal preference.

Ayleen Karamat, a first-year Toronto Metropolitan University journalism student, said she’s so stressed with everything, she needs a break sometimes to escape all of it. 

“What I will do is take a walk to a different part of town,” she said. “Going to the beach or even to Loblaws helps me get stuff off my mind.”

Other students have other “coping” mechanisms. 

Emmy Carlos Rayman, a fellow journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University, said that going to the gym is how he manages his stress.

“Blowing off steam at my local gym is a proven way to cope with stress,” he said. “It also helps me focus on my studying and memory of course material.” 

Talk about dedication. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t remember the last time I went to the gym to blow off steam or de-stress…

Stay well-rested.

This is more of a coping mechanism on how to deal with the stress. Making sure to get a good night’s sleep is key to the successful outcome of your final results. Not only will you be fully focused during your exam (instead of daydreaming about that wonderful nap you’re going to take once you get home), but it’ll be a mini-break from all that stress. Bad stress, as we all know, takes a very negative effect on our mental health. University is too expensive and the workload is too demanding for us to be taking days off in order to tend to our (mental) health problems, but it is important! You don’t want to be falling asleep when it counts the most!

Remove all distractions and stop multitasking!

This is another very important tip. You cannot study and be on your phone or watching TV at the same time! It does not work. Multiple studies have shown multitasking is actually one of the biggest causes of distraction and our brains cannot handle it well. Our phones are our biggest distractions (duh), with notifications going off every 2 minutes, checking Instagram and Twitter and whatnot. This means, our focus will be more towards our phones and what’s happening in the digital world rather than what’s in front of us.      

Our phones are also an added stress-causer because we’re more worried about how many people liked our recent post, how many followers we gained, who’s more popular, and so forth. Various studies have shown that the more time we spend on our phones, the more anxious we become. Soon, this anxiety can cause mental health problems.  

So, whenever you’re about to study, turn off all electronic devices or go into a separate room to make sure all of your focus is on studying. You’ll be much more efficient and effective with your time.     

Study out loud.

One of the best ways to study is to read the material and your notes out loud. Re-reading your notes is great, but people often tend to zone out and their eyes become heavy. By reading your notes out loud, it can be a refreshing way to help you memorize the content quicker! Reading out loud helps you focus on each word individually, allowing you to grasp each and every concept. Another trick is to act like you have to teach the material to someone else. By doing this, you can learn quickly and memorize since you will be the one having to teach! 

Relax and remember to breathe.

Last, but not least, the most important tip is to relax. You survived a thousand exams before and you can and will survive a few more. Finals are not the end of the world (though they sometimes feel like it). Remember that your mental and physical health are above everything else. Yes, even your grades. You need to prioritize yourself first. It is okay to do bad or fail — that’s a part of life. You need to learn to get back up when life kicks you down. It is not the end of the world and your grades do not define who you are as an individual. Take a deep breath and follow these tips and tricks. 

Start early. Familiarize yourself with the exam questions by quizzing yourself. Take a bubble bath and light some infused candles. Organize your study sessions. Drink tea. Get plenty of rest. Eat a good breakfast the day of the exam. Take breaks. You will ace your exams. Breathe.

And that’s a wrap, ladies and gentlemen! Remember: grades are not definitive of you as a person. Above all is your mental health. I hope these tips and tricks help you, both for studying purposes and to ease off the fear of your first university finals (if you’re a first-year like me). Good luck and you got this!

Published on January 2, 2020

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