Exam stress rises as Christmas approaches

Exam week this year falls between Dec. 15 to 18, and for some students it will mean the difference between the grade they’ve been striving for and something that falls just below the mark.

“There’s always stress during [exam week],” said senior Rachel Alexander. “If you have a good grade, [exams] are most likely going to pull your average down. It gets stressful [especially for seniors] because a lot of schools require your midterm grades, so they’re going to see your exam scores.”

Stress can take the form of lack of sleep, and this problem is often exacerbated when students try to optimize their study time at the cost of their rest.

“I can’t really say I’m feeling a lot of stress,” said sophomore Jack Amerson. “I think a lot of people are really concerned about grades, sometimes more than other people. They can sometime overstress and overwork themselves, and not treat [themselves] as healthily as they should.”

On exams, students find themselves tested on all the material that they have learned thus far. There is a pressure to recall information, and feeling unable to do so causes an anxiety that only proves counterproductive.

“I think students have general expectations of how they want to do, and around exam time some of those expectations are not going to equal reality,” said history teacher David Drake. “To me, that’s where the pressure comes from.”

Stress, however, can prove to be an effective tool for motivation. “Eustress,” also known as positive stress, is categorized as the entry-level feelings of discomfort when there is a task that one feels uncertain about in terms of his or her ability to achieve it. That feeling of slight dissatisfaction, not too much to impede someone from moving beyond it and approaching a task rationally, pushes people to exert just a bit more effort to reach their goals.

“The idea is that stress sometimes functions as a “u,” said neuroscience teacher Anna Moore. “Too much stress and you’re not going to perform well, too little stress and you’re not going to perform well. With just the right amount of stress, you’re going to perform really well.”

As exam week approaches, students at times are discouraged by how little time is left to prepare, reverting to cramming rather than methodically reviewing material.

“I see the attempt [by students] to get organized,” said Bible teacher Kay Solomon. “I see a tremendous emphasis on getting the grades and just a general sort of panic. It’s sort of a  ‘what do we need to know, what do we need to know, just tell me what we need to know now’ [kind of situation]. There’s an attempt to try to understand everything all at one time.”

While preparing for exams, students also have many other responsibilities to juggle in order to ensure that they remain attractive to the colleges that they aspire to attend. Juniors and seniors especially are in the process of making decisions about where they would like to spend the next four years of their lives.

“The fact [is] that this [exam] grade is so important to the final grade, and if you mess up one problem it could cause you to fail,” said junior Meghan Cobler. “Depending on where my average is and whether or not I’m right on the border, I want to get over the border, not under the border. I know that a lot of my friends are in the same boat I’m in, especially during junior year when we’re all so stressed about SATs. We’re all starting the process of looking at colleges, and we also have to worry about keeping up with our grades.”

Many students devise mechanisms to lower their anxiety as exam week draws nearer.

“If I just break up studying and make a schedule and plan, that definitely calms me down,” said sophomore Sydney Simmons. “If I can make a list and check stuff off, then that’s good for me.”

Sometimes anxiety can derail the extended efforts of completing a task, so many teachers recommend actions that may help exam week feel less stressful.

“Getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely critical,” said Moore. “Good nutrition obviously is as well. Another thing that the research has shown us students can do is making sure they continue to get exercise as they study for exams.”

 “All I would say is this is a journey, and to try to look at it as a journey as opposed to a destination,” said Solomon. “Exams are not a destination. Exams are not the be-all and end-all. It’s just the journey that you’re taking to get somewhere. If you end up veering off the path, then just get back on it. If you look at exams like that, then you’ll be less inclined to be very stressed.”