The five stages of grief the night before an exam

June 04, 2015
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It’s that dreaded time of year again when we lock ourselves up in our bedrooms like hermits. While our parents might naively think we’re studying quietly in our rooms, the reality is we’ve buried ourselves under a blanket, hoeing into a giant block of rocky road and hiding from the impending doom that is the exam period.

Feeling guilty that you’ve left everything to the last minute? We’ve all been there. The following list might sound normal to serial procrastinators – these are the dramatic ups and downs you’ll experience the night before the dreaded exam. And for those of you unfamiliar with pre-exam grieving, treat this as a guide on what not to do in the lead up to your test.


It starts early in the evening: the optimistic thought of, ‘I have plenty of time!’ You suddenly forget your lack of organisation throughout the semester and assume it’ll be a piece of cake to read over your notes – that should only take, like, an hour, right? The freak-out stage is yet to begin, as your overconfident self watches some TV as a well-deserved break from all the study you naively assume you’ve already done. Hey, it’s been a hard semester!


Watch out for this stage: you won’t only be angry with yourself, but everyone else around you - heaven forbid they should get in your way. When you realise how much work you actually have to do in less than 24 hours, you’ll be cursing yourself for not having prepared earlier. This stage may lead to passive aggressive text messages back to your friends who are annoyingly over-prepared and asking you questions you should (but don’t) know the answer to. Much like denial, the anger stage is yet another form of procrastination. You still haven’t made the attempt to start studying; instead you’re cleaning up the textbooks and notes that you irrationally flipped onto the floor in a fit of rage.


It won’t be long before you get stuck into cramming and begin hating every moment. You'd sell your soul to the dark lord to not be studying. At the very least, you’re considering paying someone else to take the exam and do the hard work for you. This seems like a good idea until you remember your restrictive student budget and how much time you’ve taken off from your casual job with the good intentions of using that time to study. You’re suddenly sucking up to your more prepared friends so they’ll divulge their secrets of exam success, or even better, persuading them to hand over their impeccably structured notes.


There comes a low point in the night when you know you can’t buy yourself out of the mess you’re in. You become so stressed from all this time wasted not studying that it becomes even harder to concentrate. You start to doubt yourself and become sure you’re going to fail the exam. This makes you even more miserable, as the thought of possibly failing the whole subject sinks in and you realise you might have to go through this whole unpleasant business again next semester.


It’s 1am and you have a sudden bout of energy. Whether it’s because you’re starting to understand the exam material or you’ve become delirious from the 10 cups of coffee you’ve consumed, you suddenly become confident you can do this: “This is easy! I’ll just mention a few dead French guys and I can scrape a pass!” In the early hours of the morning you accept defeat that you’ve done all you can do, and now you can only hope for the best. You vow that next semester will be different and that you’ll start preparing for your exams months in advance*.

*You will inevitably break this promise to yourself and repeat steps one to five every semester until the end of uni, never really learning your lesson.

Lauren Piggott

Lauren studies journalism at UTS and has dreamed of being a writer since the age of six, when she tried to sneak a book she wrote into her local library.

Image: Petras Gagilas, Flickr Creative Commons license