How to cope with summative stress



summative stress illustAs the days grow longer and the dark Durham nights slowly shorten, we are met with the wonderful season of summatives. This entails an exponential growth in coffee intake, all-nighters in the Billy B, and frantic emails to tutors. We’re all equally as stressed – even those who don’t like to admit it – but read on and I hope to alleviate your stress.


It’s already week five of term, and I have yet to start an essay. Panic! How the hell am I supposed to write nearly 15,000 words on a variety of topics that I haven’t even attended the lectures for? I’d better start now:  time to head to the Billy B, even though it’s already midnight and my eyes are drooping.

This, dear friends, is not the right way to go about it. You’ll be better off getting a good night’s sleep and embarking on the momentous task tomorrow, bright and early. This is a crucial part to motivation. Starting something late in the evening is not going to help you in the long run, as lack of sleep is directly proportional to low motivational levels (in my experience, at least).  So, sleep and a realistic goal are extremely important. It’s no point dedicating eight whole hours (that sounds a lot, right?) to complete something; remember that at least two of those hours will be spent procrastinating on Facebook or BuzzFeed – and this is me being optimistic. You’ll be more motivated if you set yourself achievable goals, rewarding yourself with a break when you’ve completed the set task. That way, you’ll feel like you’re making progress (even if you really aren’t).


You can often feel at your lowest when you don’t understand something, causing you to stare listlessly at your screen for several hours. Remember that you’ve only got four weeks to write five essays, so don’t waste time – seek help! This is what your tutors are for; after all, we’re paying £9000 a year for twenty-three teaching weeks. For humanities subjects, with an average of nine hours a week, that’s more than £50 per hour! So, email your tutors and make sure that you get your money’s worth. In fact, pester them as much as you want. That’s what I do. And it works.


If all the above fails, and you’re still not making progress, remember not to panic. That will definitely not help things. If you’re being super unproductive and know that you’re not going to get this essay done anytime soon, take time off and distract yourself. You’ll find yourself refreshed and ready to go back to work afterwards, if all goes to plan. Anything will do – the crazier, the better. Why worry about those essay deadlines you have in a week when you can take a spontaneous day trip to Alnmouth (a lovely town one stop away from Newcastle)? A day distracting yourself by the sea is surely the best way to take your mind off impending deadlines. If you’re brave enough, you could even take a dip in the inviting North Sea (I wouldn’t).


Finally, it is important to get some perspective on your degree. That summative that you’re stressing about? It’s only worth 25% of one of your modules. That’s 1/24 of what your year overall is worth. And that seems pretty negligible when you consider that one year is worth maximum 60% of your overall degree. I can’t do maths but your essay is worth a tiny amount of your degree. Although it’s great to do well on everything, it really isn’t the end of the world if you do badly on a few things. We all need a life aside from university, and stressing and getting sleepless nights over a few measly marks is just not worth it. That said, don’t completely slack: just do what you can. Even those who emerge from Durham with a 1st may end up working for in a café for years anyway. Optimism is the key, eh?

That’s all I have to say, but I hope that I’ll have alleviated your stress (if only while reading this) or spurred you into action. If this isn’t the case, then I sympathise: I’m only writing this article to procrastinate…

Illustration by Lara Salam.

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