Two weeks today, I will be approaching the end of my first exam. I haven’t taken any end-of-year exams for almost two years, as I was ill last year, and I’m having difficulty remembering how I felt back then about my exams but I’m fairly sure I was feeling stressed.

This year I am much less anxious about the exams, although I’m not sure whether this is because I have worked more effectively during the year and therefore have less panicking to do, or because I have got a bit of perspective on their importance. I think the latter is the crucial one really, and that breaks into two parts.

Firstly, on a purely pragmatic level I have opted out of the exam grade panic by recognising that any of the careers I have been considering either require me to start again and retrain, or won’t require qualifications. Suddenly the exams have become less about getting that all-important grade and more about enjoying the opportunity to consider and think about things, and write reasoned arguments based on what I’ve learnt in the last eight months.

And secondly my personal sense of self-worth has changed drastically. Two years ago I was still dithering about my faith. I hadn’t wholeheartedly committed my life to Jesus and I was still having days of serious doubts. Validation from external sources like my teachers and my parents was the most important thing, and I wanted to prove myself by getting good grades. Of course in the event I actually got a fairly bad grade, and I felt pretty rotten about it.

This year my sense of worth has become internal. Working hard and using my time well is something I do think is valuable, and time wasting is one of my most worrying problems. But getting a first class exam result is not going to fix any of the things I need to work on. 85% would get me the highest grade in the year by a long way (our grading system is rather different to that of other universities and certainly in other countries – 70% is an excellent grade) but it wouldn’t make me a better or happier person.

When everyone else is panicking about exams, it is difficult to keep rational about them. I need to be careful not to fall into either of two traps: one is to buy into the collective stress and allow myself to believe that the rest of my life depends on the grade I get in these exams, and to neglect every other aspect of my life to focus on revision. This is the approach that many well-meaning people encourage. I have had friends say they couldn’t possibly work as a tutor or do voluntary work during “exam term” (I am also trying to get out of the habit of using this nickname – it is Easter term, a much more uplifting name!), which instantly makes me feel as though I should stop doing those things and work more. I have to remind myself that God values the effort I put into my work, but being a good student would not make up for neglecting church, Bible study and my friends. I need to trust that life will work out however the exams go.

The other is to feel smug about my well-balanced life and relax, not putting any effort into my work at all, and as a result be lazy and unproductive. Pride and the belief that I’ve got everything right while everyone else is wrong can be a huge problem for me. I don’t want to allow myself to rely on the excuse “I’m saved! God has it in hand!” to neglect my duties and my own side of the bargain. This is the biggest worry at the moment, and on that note I’m going to go and do some revision!

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