(Personal, Advice) Stress!!

I’m a third year university student with something of a conundrum: For the past 3 years I’ve been something of an exam crammer. I dick-around till a day or two before the exam, and then try to funnel as much information through my hippocampus as possible. It would be an incredibly stressful day or two, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

Still, I’ve always been told that cramming is bad, so this year, as part of my self-improvement regimen, I decided to try and spread out my studying over a few days. Except now what’s happened is that instead of being super-stressed for 1 or 2 days, I’ve been stressed for the past 4 days. And I don’t deal with it well.

For example, last night I spent 8 hours in bed, of which 6 of them were spent asleep. The first hour was spent tossing and turning - I was exhausted, and trying not to think about stressful things, but my heart was racing nonetheless due to a current of worries and fears just under my focused thoughts - and I somehow woke up an hour early for work, still exhausted, and couldn’t get back to sleep for that extra 60 minutes.

So I’m perpetually tired and I can’t seem to get a proper night’s rest, and so I can’t get much quality studying done…which of course only worries me more.

Now I find this stress rather useful when I’m doing an assignment, or writing an essay. I find it helps me focus and gets my ideas flowing, and usually my marks reflect this. But just about any examination ends up being below my average.

…now that was very long and perhaps quite boring, but does anyone have any words of sympathy/advice/reproach? How does one learn to deal with stress? Or, maybe, how does one make studying less stressful?

I don’t have any advice (other than to not let it get that far… but I should probably follow that advice first). However, I can certainly relate. Let’s see… it’s 12:30, I’m dicking around on this message board, and I have my Orgo final tomorrow morning at 9 am. Yeah. Along with another major final on Wednesday, a major but less worrying one on Thursday, and a paper rewrite due on Friday. My sleep has been worse, but I’m used to that, so it’s not too bad.

Argh. Anyways, good luck with your round of exams.

Spreading out your studying over 4 days is still cramming.

I raised cramming to a high art in my undergraduate and graduate studies because I had a medical problem that kept me from focusing on my classwork. Trust me when I tell you that the studies that show poor retention of information memorized while cramming are entirely correct.

To reduce exam stress and improve retention of material learned, you should attend classes and read your assignments on time. Review notes taken that evening after class. Do periodic reviews over the course of the semester. If you do these things, by the time of the final exam, you will already know much of the information you have had to memorize in cram sessions.

Yes, it is time-consuming, but you get what you pay for.

Geez, I read your post and said, “Hey, there’s me.” I can offer only my sympathies and my own tactics:

Reading: Read everything on time. For me, this requires putting myself in a position to make sure it gets done. Hanging out at my husband’s law school (or somewhere with equally fewer distractions) with nothing but my reading assignments usually does the trick.

Sleep: get it no matter what. I had a scare last month when I went for my yearly exam chronically underslept. My blood pressure was 158/87: let my health problems be a warning to you. That is what stress and lack of sleep will do. I take a mild OTC sedative (which is enough for me) to make sure I go to sleep at a decent hour. Last week I was back to my old rock-steady 118/76.

Test time: No studying allowed! I made this rule for myself a number of years ago. Instead of looking over notes in the first hour before class, I meditate, take a quiet walk or get a snack.

I find though that sometimes things still get backed up on me. The trick is not to let it get there, and if/when it does, not to let it get the best of you. It’s an ongoing struggle.

Good luck, I hope things improve for you.

Absolutely. Now, I realize that each school is different, but if your teachers are any decent (actually, the majority), 90% of your studying is NOT reading books and classnotes.

It’s doing exercises, writing papers, reading more than what you’re told to read. If each book chapter has 12 exercises and the teacher tells you to do 3 for homework to give to him, do those 3 and give them to him, yes… but do the other 9 as well!

What are you studying, if I may ask?

This particular exam? Philosophy of Language. Frege, Kripke, Davidson, Putnam. Both difficult and boring. Exam is in 3.5 hours, and I spent 8 hours in bed last night, this time 5 of them asleep. So over the past 3 days I’ve gotten about 16 hours of sleep, and I’m absolutely wrecked.