King’s students: you are more than academic validation, don’t let it damage your happiness

Time to take a break from being an academic weapon

As exam season reaches its peak (sorry to the STEM students who are far from the finish line), the Maughan Library continues to get busier and busier, I don’t think I’ve seen so many people there at 9AM on a Friday morning. It’s been tough for everyone, as it is every year, with some people sitting their first exam since GCSEs. I can tell we’ve all been spiralling under the pressure – the deadlines, the internship applications, and for some of us – the study abroad applications.

Doing exams at uni is an entirely different story to school exams for A-levels and GCSEs. The way I balanced and approached my work back then was bizarre –  I was a shell of the person I am now and academic validation was the centre of my life. In some ways, it still is. I constantly want to achieve the best results possible – but it’s no longer the end of the world when I don’t get the top grade in a philosophy formative.

I almost feel nostalgic for the era of Studytube – the group of British YouTubers whose content would focus on studying and exam prep, or A-level results day to see if they got into Oxford or Cambridge. Back in 2019 I was OBSESSED with the likes of Jack Edwards, Eve Cornwell, Eve Bennett, UnJaded Jade and Ruby Granger. I wanted to be exactly like them – getting A*s in my exams, enrolling to Oxbridge and becoming an academic weapon. In some respects, I did do this. Obviously not Oxbridge though, KCL has my heart.

Now all of these YouTubers have grown up and left education, so such content on the internet is not really present anymore. And for younger generations just beginning their academic careers, I see it as a good thing.

I think many of us struggle with the concept of productivity – not just academically but in day to day life. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll feel like a failure if I’m behind on something as tedious as washing clothes. I suppose that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Just with anything in life, we don’t want to be behind or feel inadequate to anyone else – it’s human nature. What I have come to learn is that we need to allow ourselves to fall behind sometimes – or we will end up having a big ol’ breakdown. Academic burnout, especially right now, is REAL.

Everyone has different definitions of productivity and what success looks like to them. Although life as a university student offers common experiences, some degrees certainly have lighter workloads in comparison to others. But, we all tackle our work in different ways and right now everyone has a workload: Whether that’s a dissertation to submit, coursework deadlines or exams.

So if you’re feeling stressed, either because of the pressure you are putting on yourself, or because of the influence of other things or other people – I’d like to remind you that you do not need academic validation to survive. When you’re old and grey, you will not be thinking, “God, I wish I got a 70 in my Medieval Literature exam, I could’ve earnt six figures if that had happened”, because I hate to break it to you, you might not, and if you did, it wouldn’t be because of your Medieval Literature exam. Instead, you might think, “I wish I had worried a little less and looked out for myself more, I took that time for granted”.

Do we all want to do well in our degrees? Yes, I’d like to think so. But we can’t eat, sleep and breathe revision. Your hard work will pay off so much more if you study for three concentrated hours, with a break in-between, rather than studying for a whole working day like you have seen strangers on the internet do. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself will not only be detrimental to your mental health, but will also hinder your academic results.

I have a long road left of being a student at King’s, which is why this exam season especially I’ve had to establish some rules for myself to stop me from going insane, but also so that I can reach my full academic potential. The most obvious of these was to not cram the night before – that would only make me sleep deprived instead of retaining any knowledge.

For me, I started studying at least a month and a half before my exams – these were not full study days – most of the time I’d wake up at 8am and finish off by lunchtime with the afternoon off. And they weren’t intense study sessions either, just collecting notes and familiarising myself with what the exam could look like.

This might not work for everyone but I can confidently say that depriving yourself of rest and relaxation will not pay off at all. It is difficult to come to terms with but we are also humans beyond what our exam results look like. So if you’re feeling anxious about upcoming exams or the results of those you’ve already sat, then as long as you know you have done what you can – it will all be okay. And that’s taken me a long time to reconcile with.

It’s good to be ambitious and focused – they’re amazing qualities to have and will benefit you throughout your life, granting you many successes. However, it is also good to know when to stop and when to take a break. We are not perfect people and we certainly cannot be that all the time.

Be kind to yourself and your approach to studying, and know you are much more than what your exam results look like. Your degree should be prioritised, but it is also only a fraction of your life. You are here for a reason that is greater than how you can be validated academically.

Congratulations to all those who have finished their exams and good luck to everyone who still has a way to go, I am rooting for you!

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