It's the most stressful time of the year

What students, profs and universities do to raise and reduce student stress

Coffee, textbooks, Facebook and comfy clothes- telltale signs of final papers and exams. (Photo: Katie Rankin)

When December rolls around university campuses are full of exhausted students chugging big cups of coffee during late-night cram sessions.

Final papers and exams can stress out the most relaxed person.

Kailee Fortin says it's "the time crunch" that stresses her out the most. Fortin is a fourth-year sociology student at Dalhousie University. "You lose track of time," she says, and then there doesn't seem to be enough of it.

Fortin feels more pressure to do well because she's in the last year of her degree. "You can't just cram," she says, the marks matter more.

Tips for Managing Stress
-Complete tasks that are causing you stress
-Maintain a good diet and get enough sleep
-Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs
-Make realistic goals and plans
-Keep organized
-Avoid distractions
-Manage your time wisely
-Use counselling services at your university

Professor Roberta Barker says everyone can relate to being stressed out and the biggest cause of student stress is the "inevitable pile-up of work at the end of the term."

Barker is professor and chair in Dalhousie's theatre department. She was voted the third consecutive winner of The Coast's best professor award.

She tries to avoid loading work on her students.

She gives them as many options as possible for passing in work. In some courses students can pass in their major paper at the end of October instead of at the end of the term.

She is open to giving students extensions, but believes extending the due date of an assignment should be fair. Recently she had some students come to her office and ask for an extension so she gave a few extra days to the entire class.

Sometimes it's unavoidable that assignments will be due at the same time, says Barker, and this is when stress kicks in.

Moira Tanner is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King's College. She says the overlapping of work is the most stressful part.

One of her friends has three exams on Monday, she says.

So much work due at one time means students are forced to pick and choose which courses they'll concentrate on, says Angus Morgan, a second-year history of science and technology and biology student at King's.

"You really have to choose the [course] to put the most time into," he says.

This means you might study more for a course you're doing poorly in to raise that grade, or you might focus on the one you're doing better in order to maintain a good grade, he says.

No sleep, no eat

Some students work well under pressure, says Barker, but most students are overtired and stress creeps up on them.

They stop sleeping and eating, which makes their energy low, she says.

Zona Roberts runs the Sodexo Canteen at the University of King's College campus. She notices a change in student behaviour at exam time.

"It's a sin," she says. "I feel bad for them."

"They don't eat, they don't sleep."

"I guess they figure they gotta do this to get through school."

She points to one student and says she's only been getting about two hours sleep for the past week.

Barker says this combination of stress, fatigue, and lack of nutrition can make students emotional and fragile. They are more likely to cry when they come to her office, she says.

Knowing what to study

One major source of stress is the fear they're not studying the right material for an exam, particularly in an arts course like English literature, says Barker.

She says giving students the exam essay questions in advance can help reduce stress. Students can choose the material they want to focus on.

It's a better reflection of what they've learned, she says. That way no one is thinking "Ah! It's on Troilus and Criseyde and I studied Hamlet!" she says, imitating a stressed-out student.

"Students need more availability and attention from professors," she says.

Unfortunately it's the same time of year professors are busy marking the papers and setting the exams that stress students out. It can become a vicious circle of stress.

"You can get that perfect storm," she says.

How to deal

Barker says the best thing students can do when feeling stressed is to keep getting sleep.

"If you're really exhausted your brain is not going to be functioning," she says.

Moira Tanner says she tends to stay up later studying and wake up earlier to study during exams.

In order to de-stress Kailee Fortin takes a break and watches television or plays solitaire; basically something that isn't a "high brain functioning" activity, she says.

Barker suggests students go take a walk and get their bodies moving.

But it doesn't seem like students are making time for exercise.

David Mitton, manager of customer service at Dalplex, says there is a noticeable drop in students exercising during exam time.

"Even our student staff ask for time off," he says. "They don't want to be here."

There are programs offered at the gym that help de-stress, but there are none specifically catering to students around exam time.

Angus Morgan is on the King's volleyball team, but even he hasn't seen the gym in a while. All of his team practices have stopped until exams are over, he says.

Barker says Dalhousie has taken some good steps to helping students, like adding the new study day in November. It fell the day after Remembrance Day, giving students a four-day weekend to catch-up on schoolwork.

The university should look at different options surrounding assignments, she says.

Morgan says the most stressful part is "how much value is placed on exams."

Barker says the university could consider smaller tests spread throughout the semester and whether all classes need a final exam.



Comments on this story are now closed