I was about to say that I’m writing this blog post when I should be studying for finals, but actually, writing this blog post is helping me study for finals.
Are you confused? Let me explain what I mean.
I’m a junior, and for the last two years, I was so stressed out about finals that I basically did nothing but sit in my room for weeks at the end of the school year. I didn’t see friends, I didn’t get out and exercise like I usually do, I didn’t watch movies, or do anything that made me happy. Every time I wanted to do something fun, like hang out or watch a show, I’d think, That’s a waste of time. I have to focus only on studying. Forget that I felt like crying at times, was always irritated with my parents and siblings, didn’t sleep well, and had anxiety every time I thought about how much everyone else seemed to be studying. I thought this was just what you do when you have finals. You’re not supposed to have a life. Just get through it, right?
It wasn’t just my competitive school culture that made me act like I was training for the test-taking Olympics. It was also my family culture. My parents are Chinese immigrants, and for them, academic achievement means everything. In their minds, getting top grades leads to getting into a top college, which leads to having a successful career with financial security, which means that your parents did everything right in raising you. They taught you to create what they thought is a happy future.
I agree that working hard and accomplishing your goals gives you more options for the future. I want to do well too. But this year, as my stomach knotted just thinking about finals period again, I wondered whether or not the way I approached finals helped me. I did well on my finals as a freshman and sophomore, but was it because of the way I studied constantly, or despite it? After finals were over, I felt depleted, like I had to recover from a long, bad flu. After the initial elation of being done with finals wore off, I felt numb and disoriented, like a month of my life was lost, my mind and body were drained, and I had to take time to become myself again. Was that really what finals required?
So this year, I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if I could balance having fun with studying, and if I’d get the same results. While studying for AP exams, I made sure to do one fun thing a day, even for just a few minutes. I took a walk and listened to music that made me happy. I gave myself the night off on a weekend to see a movie with a friend. I baked with my younger sister. I went shopping with another friend (we had prom coming up). And I found that when I went back to studying, I was more focused and awake, and learned the material even better because I felt more relaxed and refreshed. I also slept better each night and had less anxiety most days.
Last week I finished my AP exams, and I feel confident that I did well. Now, as finals come up, I’ve scheduled out not just my study blocks, but also my fun blocks. Because I know that my fun blocks are just as important to my success on my finals as the study blocks are.
So if you’re stressing out about finals, think about what makes you happy and schedule it into your study routine. 🙂