One sleepless night followed by another. Nowhere on campus to sit down. Finding rooms in buildings you didn’t even know existed. All this momentum climaxing to the moment you finally are able to see the number that will dictate whether you shed tears of celebration or wail in despair. Even in my second year, the feeling of nervousness occupying the winter months has never dissipated. The fear that permeates the gradebook tab on OWL only grows stronger once you’ve received a disappointing result – the numbers are tiny, but the effect of them is mighty.
Grades are always going to be a substantial part of a student’s life no matter the circumstance, but behind hours of studying the key to maintaining consistent performance is a good mindset. Now that the first midterm season has officially ended, let’s work together to prepare for the dreaded revelation of our hard work!
Maintaining motivation can be a difficult task, especially the period right after exams where you may just be starting to catch up on sleep. As you start to peacefully drift off, here comes a bad test score to ruin your self-esteem! During midterm season last year, I wrote what I thought was going to be my best midterm ever. I was confident in every single question and was the first one out of the exam room. The following days I spent hours in a state of pure focus for my other midterms, focus that could only be disrupted by the electrifying sound of an Outlook notification. For my other grades, I had always been slightly nervous to see the culmination of my efforts but for this exam, it was a feeling of excitement.
As I clicked on my gradebook, I felt all the air escape my lungs. Instantly I was taken back to third grade when some eight-year-old who took dodgeball way too seriously had struck me right in the stomach. On the screen showed the lowest score I had ever received in my entire academic career. When I lifted my head, I oddly expected everyone else around me to be just as shocked and for a frenzied commotion to break loose. Instead, all I saw were the tops of people’s heads buried in their books accompanied by the sound of faint keyboard clicks. It was only my world that collapsed. My life stopped for a good two hours while I mentally broke down in a Somerville House bathroom stall. With two midterms in the next three days, all I could think about was the time I was wasting being sad. I should still have been reviewing but I was so utterly devastated that it was impossible for me to continue studying.
Throughout every student’s journey in university, difficult situations where you feel drained are bound to happen. My story is the one I can tell best but after consulting my peers in other programs, many similar lessons are continuously reiterated. The key to a positive mindset in university is to view academics as a progressive journey rather than a one-night feature Broadway performance. When a poor grade does present itself, view it as a learning opportunity and use it as motivation to work harder on the next exam or assignment. No one exam is ever the end and you still have plenty of opportunities to make up for your disappointing result. During the time before finals season, immerse yourself in hobbies or spend time with your friends. These activities will help you cope with times of particularly negative moods. Instead of wallowing in sorrow, reflect on the struggles you had and find ways to mitigate them next exam season. If you found yourself pulling one too many all-nighters, use a planner to allocate your studying more efficiently. If the content was difficult to understand, seek help through teaching assistants or your professor through office hours. The effort you put in will be reciprocated and always keep in mind that no hard work is ever done in vain. Most importantly, never deny yourself a break. If you physically cannot bring yourself to continue studying, further force can lead to burnout. Shut off your laptop, close your textbooks and get back on it the next day.
Eventually, I did drag myself out of the bathroom and back to my residence where I continued to study for my other exams through puffy eyes. But every time I tried to focus on the textbook in front of me, my thoughts would float back to the mark that had consumed my mind. The next day, I went to office hours for my 1220 exam that was on the horizon. I ended up telling my professor about what had happened, and his response allowed me to gain a sense of clarity. When you are subjected to university life, particularly when you live on residence, everywhere you go is a reminder of everything you need to do. People hunched over tables with their noses buried deep into their books, students rushing to their classes and the many naps being taken reinforce how much is on your own plate. It is far too easy to forget to let yourself breathe. I realized that getting an inadequate mark is the most normal issue that every university student will face but gets lost easily through the mirage of glowing laptop screens.
Whether an unsatisfactory result comes from a lack of knowledge, the exam itself seeming to ask everything except for the sections you studied, or you just happened to not fill a quarter of your scantron (DOUBLE-CHECK YOUR SCANTRONS!), the power is in your hands and your hands alone to come back stronger. So, pick yourself up off the bathroom floor, wipe the smudged mascara off your face and go show your OWL gradebook who the boss is around here.