As a college senior finishing up my undergraduate years, I have done it all: studied ahead of time, crammed before my exam, rewatched lectures, not studied at all (just kidding, I didn’t do that one) and loosely followed the worn-out advice to “get enough sleep and eat a full breakfast.” I can admit that often I am the person stressed about an exam, only do fine anyway — this does not include chemistry. I won’t sit here and tell you how to study because you know how to study. What I will tell you is that your worth should not be tied up with your academic success, your productivity, and especially not a letter grade from an institution that has repeatedly been called out for its bias against people of color and disability. As they say, C’s get degrees. My advice before midterms is to be kind to yourself. To release that tension that sits in your body as the clock ticks down to the virtual exam going up on the website. Here is the midterm advice I wish someone had told me sooner:
1. Enjoy nature
I write this at the start of spring. The weather outside, climate change notwithstanding, has been gorgeous. Sunny with a slight breeze. The first hints of shorts weather. In Zoom university you have no class to rush to from across campus. Use the half-hour before your exam to take a walk. Listen to the birds, look at the sky, catch sight of the flowers welcoming the sun. Second best is admiring your houseplants. No time or no place to go? Try visiting a coral reef.
2. Pet an animal
Petting an animal is scientifically proven to release oxytocin, which means more happiness and less stress. That’s why pet therapy and cat cafes exist.
3. Get moving
The worst thing about in-person classes was the time you sit waiting for exams to be passed around. I like to pace around to calm my nerves and hype myself up. Before an exam, you want to experience positive stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which boosts mental health and helps you perform well on your exam.
4. Phone a friend
If it works on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” it can work for you. Reaching out to people who care about you can help you feel supported, which is especially helpful during the period of stress we often experience around midterms.
5. Nourish yourself
Underrated. Sometimes, our response to burnout is to forget self-care. Maybe you are too busy to eat, or have been eating more than feels right. Just check-in with yourself here. Remember, food has no face value to it and diet culture is toxic. Stay hydrated and ask for help if you need it.
6. Affirm your self-worth
Advice for all the time. As I mentioned above, your self-worth won’t change based on how you do on your midterms. Remember that you are worthy of good things, regardless of the pressure society puts on us to be high achievers.
7. Close all those tabs
This is whatever you feel like it needs to be. I personally cannot concentrate when I have Netflix open in the background or if my phone is nearby. I also know that the more hours I spend doomscrolling, the worse I feel. Do what is best for your mental health.
8. Organize your space
This is a gentle reminder that your environment can affect how you feel. You can take time to attend to tasks that have been piling up without feeling like it’s cutting into your study. Both can be important.
I am happy to say that I may be at my last midterm season ever, not that I’ve ever known what “midterms” even means. The format of the exams may be different in the pandemic, but how you treat yourself should always be the same — with patience and empathy. Good luck with the rest of your semester, and remember that COVID-19 isn’t over just because you’re over it.