By Caroline Petersen
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY.
In November 2017, I deferred an exam. Just for some context: I’m a top student. I get Dean’s Merit List every year and am a member of Golden Key. Apparently, I’m in the top 15% of the university or some other fancy title. So, as you can gather, this does not normally happen to me. Unfortunately, in the second semester of 2017, I got hit with depression out of the blue. I’ve always battled with anxiety and know how to handle that beast, but depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I was exhausted all the time, I didn’t want to shower or feed myself nutritional food, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I was confronted with the whirlwind of the 2017 November exams in the infamous white tents. I had back-to-back exams for my last two subjects; my majors. I spent so much time preparing for my random elective and my first major’s exam that I spent too little time studying for my last exam, and had little motivation to play catch-up to boring (but essential) lectures that I didn’t attend in the term. I had officially played myself academically.
So, I deferred my last exam on medical grounds. It was successful. I wrote my exam in January 2018 and came out with a first. A huge win! However, it was a huge learning curve as well.
It was hell studying during the summer holidays and trying to get help from friends who had already put the course far behind them. This is what I learnt and what I wish I had known before approaching those November 2017 exams which I deferred.
Give yourself a break
I pushed myself so hard for those first two exams that my brain just broke and fell into a lump of mush by the time I got to my last exam. I was exhausted and despondent. I know the burn out culture is attractive and makes everyone think you’ve got it all together, but it may be detrimental for your academic career.
— Bossed Up (@BossedUpOrg) October 5, 2017
If you don’t know something, ask when you still have time
I missed so many lectures for this course during the term because I often just didn’t understand the primary concepts. I felt stupid and grew resentfultowards the course so I started ditching lectures – a first for me. What I should’ve done early on was just ask a tutor or the incredibly helpful lecturers while we were still in term-time for help. The foundations of theory may actually be really simple (which I found out much later) but I never sought for an easier way to understand them. This led to a snowball effect and left me with no motivation to improve myself and my knowledge.
Surround yourself with good, helpful, kind people
When I finally called my deep, dark hole what it actually was – depression – I was lucky to be surrounded by wonderful friends who have been down the same road before to help and guide me through what seemed like the minefield of academia. Unfortunately, there were also unhelpful people who just increased my anxiety by letting me know I’d probably never get the deferral once I applied because of rumours they had heard. If you’re experiencing a similar tough time and considering deferrals or need extensions for assignments – you must acknowledge this as such a very vulnerable and fragile time for you, and that’s okay! Only surround yourself with people who are willing to help and heal you. Everyone else gets the cut. Block them on WhatsApp – that is a direct order!
Prepare, prepare, prepare!
This doesn’t just mean studying the lecture notes during consolidation. You need to catch up on lectures before consolidation week starts so you can spend your time actually just revising the content. Don’t waste your precious time transcribing lecture notes from voice notes. Try to sort that out now!
Everything is a victory. Celebrate it well.
When I finished my June 2018 exams, especially the exam from the course which I previously deferred in 2017, my friends could not understand why I was teary-eyed in just making it to the exam venue and handing in my script at the end of those two hours. I was incredibly proud of myself and boogied my way out of the Sports Centre. I owed it to myself. You have to celebrate the small wins and the big wins.
Good luck out there, in whichever path this exam time takes you.