Exams: A Survival Guide

Katherine Mann '19
Columns Editor

It’s that time of year again! Spring exams are upon us, and everyone is delighted to be balancing the desire to enjoy beautiful weather with the crippling burden of being graded against our peers. It was fine living in the gunner pit in December, when no one wanted to be outside anyway. But the ice-cap-melting warmth of this April has been particularly seductive. If you’re clever and current with your allergy meds, you might be able to kill two birds with one stone by studying outside. My son, for example, thinks I take him to the park so he can play with his friends. He only sort of gets that I can read Con Law in the sun while still appearing to be a passably decent parent.1

Supplements are flying off the bookstore shelves almost as fast as outlines are being emailed, and we are all starting to realize how much we don’t know compared to the smarties in the first row. Beloved Peer Advisors are giving us their best strategies, and those of us who know an A-plus isn’t in the cards are forming study groups. Depending on your strategies for dealing with stress, you’re either cutting back on alcohol in order to focus, or drinking daily to cope with your inadequacies.2

Do not mistake this column for anything involving study tips (unless you like living dangerously). I am writing only to communicate the wonders of exam time and how we cram in our different ways. Far be it from me to question the wonders of caffeination, but I am limited to one cup of tea and one cup of coffee a day before I get jittery, each precisely timed so that I can sleep at some point. While my position is potentially fatal to my GPA, I fall squarely in the camp of folks who think sleep is important. There’s the ambitious voice in my head telling me to stay in the library till midnight, and the lazy old-lady voice reminding how soft my pillow is. The latter always wins. 

But the seduction of the Keurig machines is real, and I tip my hat to the legions of students staying up all night in the library. I guess it’s good practice for the Big Law life, as is giving up your weekends. Law school parents generally have less time to study, though many of us wish we were studying instead of breaking up sibling fights or potty-training during exams. My son is eight, so my battle with him is convincing him to go outside instead of playing Minecraft, and my will crumbles during exams. It’s fair to say he gets a lot of screen time these days.

Finding a decent place to study can be a challenge, because it often seems like one’s home or bedroom is inadequate. I have given up on my own bedroom (the only home study space available to me), due to the extent of available distractions. I should be outlining for Property, but instead I’ve just wrapped up the fifth season of Buffy and I’m too emotionally wrecked to look at my notes. I study much better at the library, except when I find myself glaring at the couple3 two tables over “whispering.” Apparently, the notion that the library is supposed to be a quiet space is one mistakenly held over from my youth, kind of like democracy.

Music can drown out some of the noise, but it’s not really a substitute for silence. I find it too distracting, but I admire those of you who can slip on the Beats and totally focus. I’ve tried all the study stations on Spotify, but I get pretty distracted by the phrase “this is crap” constantly going through my head. And if I listen to what I actually like, I get distracted because I like it. Or I just spend twenty minutes picking an artist or station and I’ve lost the battle before I’ve begun. As a result, I tend to go with earplugs. I enjoy making a point of putting in my earplugs while staring at the noisy couple two tables over, my eyes narrowed judgmentally, taking my time, while thinking, “this is because of you.” I don’t think it registers.

At any rate, since we all know our entire futures totally depend on our grades,4  the panic is starting to creep in. It’s time to find your preferred space and noise-canceling apparatus and get to work. Block Facebook, ignore the news, neglect your family, pets, and significant others. You can be human again when it’s summertime, and that’s not too far away.



1 Technically this is three birds: studying, parenting, and enjoying the weather. I win.
2 Come on now, youíre at UVa Law. Youíre at least adequate.
3 Not necessarily romantic. You donít have to be a romantic couple to be annoying.
4 Iím told this might not be entirely true. Source declined to be named.