Pushing yourself is usually a good thing. Stress, in small doses, can even be a good thing. But you know what they say about good things. Before you cram for your next exam, heed the warnings from one recent grad who definitely had too much.
There are two nights of exam preparation that amount to the worst aftermaths for me.
I scored well on the exams. But what these two nights of studying taught me about my workflow will forever stick with me. One of these nights ends in three espresso shots and the Red Sox parade. The other one ends in the emergency room.
Fact: I try to do too much. This ties into another bad quality I have, in that I sometimes don’t let my body accept defeat.
These faults came to a head during my junior year as I was trying to study for my audio exam. The test was 100 questions, and we had to draw a replica of our class’s mixing board. My roommates wanted to go ice-skating the night before, and I said no. I thought I would need more time to study. Boy, was I right. I sat down and opened my binder . . .
Gone. My notes were gone. My diagram of the mixing board and console? My signal flow chart? Gone.
I searched high and low. No way did I believe I had misplaced it, thrown it out, or left it in one of the sound booths. I was ready to tear my hair out, and before I knew it, it was past midnight.
How had that time passed while I was turning my room upside down? By now, I was frantic and exhausted. I decided there was only one thing left for me to do. I hopped on Google and tracked down the manuals to all of the equipment I needed to study.
By the time the sun was coming up, I was still in yesterday’s clothes, stooped over my books on the floor with a soggy bowl of Cheerios. It was right then, of course, in the harsh, taunting light of day that I found my notes. (To this day I have no idea why I couldn’t find them after searching for hours on end.)
I had just enough time to take a badly needed catnap, waking up two hours later for the exam. I marched over to Starbucks, handed the cashier a gift card, and asked for as many espresso shots as it would buy. I then headed to class and completed the exam in just 20 minutes—all the while a sweaty, shaky mess. After class, I stumbled over to my dorm . . . only to be woken by chanting, cheers, and what sounded like a marching band populated entirely by elephants. The Red Sox parade. How could I forget? Well, it just goes to show how exhausted I was, because all the shouting Southies in the world couldn’t keep me from falling back asleep. And I slept right through that sucker.
But that’s not even the worst of the worst.
Let’s backtrack a year, shall we? The first instance of exam folly was in my sophomore year. My roommate and I had decided to pull an all-nighter for our upcoming film history final. We were prepared: coffee, pizza, pajamas.
I felt funny the day before. My stomach seemed extra touchy, and my head hurt. I thought maybe I just hated our seminar viewing of the The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari so much that it gave me a headache!
The day of our all-nighter, I could barely eat. By the time we were studying, I could barely concentrate. I felt cold, clammy, and the glands in my neck were like golf balls. I thought it was just the lack of sleep.
Come exam time, it was like I was in a German expressionist film: The room seemed tilted and jagged. My vision was blurry. I’m not sure how I sat upright for so long, and I’m surprised my essay didn’t read like some sort of Henry James Mad Libs.
The moment I walked into my mom’s house for winter break that evening, my body gave up. I became seriously ill. By the time I was being wheeled into a hospital, I could barely feel my legs from being so dehydrated. I ended up getting an IV drip for potassium, plus a few cups of it to drink. My electrolytes were that low.
In the days leading up to this metabolic calamity, it never even occurred to me that my body was trying to tell me something important. I was so focused on getting a good grade, when I probably should have excused myself during that film screening and told my professor I was ill. I scored well on my exam, but I would have done better if I hadn’t had a fever. I also regret being in denial that I was sick because that means I could have made others ill. I’ve since learned that admitting defeat if your body is telling you to slow down is so, so important. Nobody in my classes would’ve wanted my flu. And my performance will be better if I rest up and work on it when I’m not sick.
In a nutshell: no exam is worth a trip to the ER, and don’t take on more than you can chew. You may find that not even an entire city and its baseball team can wake you from your exhaustion.