Finals and Stress Don’t Have to Go Hand-in-Hand

I know what you’re thinking after reading the title— “Is she crazy? Has she experienced finals week at Barnard or Columbia before?” Although this will be my first finals week here, I can still tell you that it’s not worth the stress we’re all putting ourselves under. Finals are harder and worth more than other exams, but that doesn’t mean you need to drive yourself crazy over them. In the end, what will that accomplish? If anything, the stress makes you feel worse and can even inhibit your performance on the exams.

My wise mother told me at the beginning of this semester, “Work for tomorrow, but don’t worry about tomorrow.” At first, I didn’t get this at all—for me, both have always gone hand-in-hand. So when she told me this, I wondered “How is this even possible?” Since then, I’ve been trying to work without worrying and I recommend for you to do the same.

During this finals season, how can you work for the grade without worrying about the grade? I think it’s all about mindset and perspective. For me, I’ve had luck telling myself to do my best and that whatever happens, happens. My calming mantra has become, “Everything happens for a reason.” You might have different thoughts and mentalities that help you, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to worry in order to work hard. (I know that sometimes the worry is what keeps us from procrastinating, but that’s maybe not the best system to have.)

I’m sure this won’t be the first time you’ve heard this, but you are worth more than a grade; a grade is just a number. Unfortunately, yes, there can be a lot of weight placed onto these numbers, especially when thinking about grad school or a future job. They make us students sweat, lose sleep, and develop mental disorders such as anxiety. As students, our minds are a whirlwind of worried thoughts: “If I fail this final, my GPA will plummet. I’ll never get into grad school. Everything will be ruined.” It’s a worried spiral of thoughts that seemingly has no end.

Please don’t let yourself get caught in a spiral like that—you can stop it before it starts. Worrying about the future with every exam you take won’t do anyone any good; life is not a series of dominos, and so one bad grade won’t ruin the rest of your life. When you feel the spiral coming, find your own calming mantra and repeat it to yourself. Everything will be okay. Think of all the other times that you worried about not doing well on a test; you’re still here, aren’t you? And you’re okay, aren’t you? Unfortunately, getting bad grades is inevitable: it’s bound to happen, but it also depends on your definition of a bad grade. For one person, a bad grade might be failing. For another, it might be less than an A. Thus, how you define a bad grade can make you be unfairly hard on yourself and thus make you stress further. I find it helpful to remember that both Barnard and Columbia are very intellectually stimulating and challenging schools. That means that it will often to be harder to get an A here than at another college. Thus, don’t be so hard on yourself!

Lastly, no matter how you do on your exams, please don’t kick yourself over the results. I know that we will all probably be losing sleep awaiting the results, ruminating over every question we think we got wrong, every point we got off, calculating what our GPA might look like. Once again, what does this accomplish other than you losing sleep that you deserve after working so hard? Once the exams are over, there is nothing you can do and so stressing over something you can’t change won’t help. Try to stay positive for the sake of your mental health and don’t lose self-esteem if you don’t like your grade when you get it back. No matter what, feel proud of yourself; you deserve it.