The time has come once again. You’re halfway through semester two at university. The assignments are rolling in. Before you know it, your modules will be finished, deadlines met and exams knocking at the door. Your coffee intake increasing, panic is building and you’ve become far too familiar with all-nighters. In your mind, all this is necessary otherwise you risk becoming a failure. The fear of failure can be paralysing, causing you to dread the future. The panic is likely to run you to the ground. Sooner or later you will burn out. However, when consumed by worry, you need to re-calibrate your thoughts and your habits. A good starting point is to dispel a couple of myths. Firstly, failing to achieve your goals does not make you a failure. Secondly, your grades do not decide who you are. Your identity is centred on Christ, not your academic achievements.
Thinking About our Academic Success
Academic success does not determine who you are. I know that may be hard to believe in such a result-oriented world. Everything around you may be screaming otherwise. Your next stage after university may hinge on your exam final results. For example, whether you secure a graduate job may depend on the degree classification you achieve. Alternatively, you may fear disappointing others by failing to attain a certain grade, viewing studies as a waste of time and money.
These are real and understandable concerns. I struggle with these thoughts, and several other worries; I’m fairly certain you do too. Our academic performance is important. We must strive to score as highly as possible in every single piece of work. But we cannot be tempted to believe that if we fail to meet our objectives then we ourselves are failures. Our academic performance, good or bad, does not define who we are. It is not the metric by which God values us. Our value and identity is grounded in who we are in Christ.
As a Christian, your value lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, you became a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), and now you belong to Him (1 Corinthians 3:23; Galatians 3:29). Through Him, you are forgiven (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 2:12). You are righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:5; Romans 5:19). You are God’s child’s (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1), loved with a greater love than any human father can give (Matthew 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13). As a child of God, you are a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17) and an heir of God’s infinite fortunes. God has an imperishable inheritance reserved for you in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). Whether you pass or fail, God is loyal in His love toward you and your status in Christ is unchanged. All of the above remains true of you. God loves you now and will never cease to love you in spite of your academic performance.
Practical tips as you study
In light of this comforting truth, we can change the way we think and approach our work. Here are some practical tips to help us in our studies as exams and assignments approach.
1. Get enough sleep
It is no secret that we do our best work when we get enough sleep. Experts suggest that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. All-nighters and a lack of sleep are unsustainable in the long run. Eventually, they will hinder the completion of our daily tasks and final exam performance. Sleep is imperative if we are to make the best use of the time God gives us in the day. Let’s make sure we get plenty of it.
2. Progressive overload
Progressive overload is a principle of training. Put simply, this states that to train effectively, you must gradually increase the workload. The same can be said for our revision and exam preparation. By progressively increasing the work we do, we begin to adjust to the amount. This allows us to steadily increase how much work we do overtime whilst avoiding the disappointment of constantly failing to complete our tasks. This encourages manageable and productive work.
3. Address anxious thoughts through prayer
Anxious thoughts are inevitable. Doubts will creep in. When we find ourselves entertaining them, we need to combat these lies with the truth of Scripture. Acknowledge your need and depend on God. Exercise your privileges as a child of God and bring your worries to Him in prayer and His peace will rule over your anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7).
4. Work to the glory of God
Because our academic performance does not affect our standing before God, we have a new motivation: to bring glory to Him in everything we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Work in a manner that pleases God. Complete every piece of work to the best possible standard, fitting for the King of Kings. Be fuelled by a desire to please God, and in turn impress your examiners (Colossians 3:23). The motivation is not fear, but a grateful response to His love and kindness expressed in the opportunity He has given us in our studies.
As our work intensifies and the pressure increases, let’s decide to think differently. We should constantly remind ourselves that our academic success does not give us our worth before God: Christ does. Our value comes from Him. We are loved and approved through Jesus, and that is unchanging. Let this give you peace as you complete your studies with excellence by the grace of God.