four students on an excercise bike

Exam Jam helps students bust exam stress

Blake Eligh

From therapy dogs to a room dedicated to napping, throngs of UTM students tried out study break stress-busters at the fall Exam Jam.

The day-long event aimed to help students avoid stress; stay focused and get energized during the winter exam period. Events included academic study sessions and free healthy snacks along with stress-busting activities like button making, yoga classes, therapy dogs and more.

“We know that this is a difficult time for students—they are struggling, overwhelmed and anxious. They feel like they are in this exam season all alone,” said Health & Counselling health education coordinator Chad Jankowski. “Exam Jam lets students know that the university cares about them, supports them and wants to see them succeed. We offer programs to help them de-stress and manage a bit better, and to help them develop healthier, more productive study habits.”

This was the third campus-wide Exam Jam session, which has grown into an event supported by departments across the campus, including the Academic Dean’s Office, Health & Counselling, the RAWC, Chartwells and more. About 80 student volunteers assisted with running events and leading group activities such as yoga, mental health sessions, button making and crafting, and a ExAuction that saw students bid to win prizes by performing physical activity such as jumping jacks, squats or riding a stationary bike.

Third-year concurrent education student, and Exam Jam volunteer Jordan Foster, volunteered with the event. He led sessions on Good2Talk, a free help line for post-secondary students, as well as a DeCaffeinate talk to help students make good choices about caffeine intake.

“Students tend to turn to caffeine because they’re stressed or need to stay awake, but that can negatively affect sleep, and studying,” Foster said. “We help people be aware of the choices they’re making, and the impact of those choices. We’re not saying have no caffeine, but perhaps space it out or choose a smaller beverage. Don’t have it too close to sleep, those hours are important and caffein can affect your memory.”

Incorporating Exam Jam activities into a study routine can help students, Foster said. “You can study effectively with breaks and time for yourself. You can get the result you’re looking for—to improve your results on that exam you might be worried about.”

Foster, who writes two exams this session, busts exam stress with frequent study breaks—every 45 minutes, he takes a 20-minute break to spend time with his dog or connect with family and friends. “I also have a rule about not studying past 7 p.m.,” he said. “I’m done for the day, so I unwind and let myself relax and let all of that information sink in.”

Fourth- year theatre and drama studies student Madeleine Brown is a coordinator with Sneaker Squad, a group that leads twice-weekly 40-minute walks around campus and community. For Exam Jam, Brown’s team took students on a loop to Lislehurt to get some exercise and fresh air.

Along with regular exercise breaks, Brown’s study trick is to break her study goals into manageable tasks. “I can’t do long-haul study sessions, so I make a pen-and-paper schedule of what I need to learn and break it into chunks,” she said. “I only study that chunk per day.“ Brown says she maxes out on concentration after about two hours. “I also like to read my notes aloud—that really helps me.”

Jankowski is already planning the next Exam Jam scheduled for early April 2015.

“We want students to be happy, healthy and well because that helps them function better and perform better,” he said.