Dealing with Stress
Events in themselves are not stressful - it is the way we interpret and react to them that makes them stressful. Coping effectively with stress highlights the difference between dealing positively with events (reacting) and responding irrationally to the situation (over-reacting).
In the run-up to exams, it is vital that you are able to identify the stress factors and put some coping mechanisms in place. Here are some useful tips:
- Make sure your goals are realistic
Probably the biggest source of stress is when there is a gap between your declared goal and your perceived capacity. When a goal is viewed as manageable, your system doesn't over-react. Review your targets in each subject and get feedback from your teachers in this regard.
- 'Talk it out'
Talking-through your situation with a parent, guidance counsellor, or close friend, is often a good way to put things in perspective. Discussing your academic goals and career options in a rational and objective manner helps you to focus on the positive and provides psychological support for your efforts.
- Get Organised
By dividing work up into manageable chunks and relating your revision to the structure of the exam papers and the time remaining, what initially looked like a huge task can appear more realistic. Make use of revision checklists to help you get the job done.
- Learn to Relax
The body needs to be prepared, just like the mind. When you're tired, concentration is more difficult, you get distracted much easier, learning and memorisation is less effective. Take the opportunity of a 'mini-break' during the day, perhaps when you come home from school in the afternoon. Lie down for 15 minutes, use some relaxation techniques, get some 'quiet time' for yourself and relax those brain muscles. Ensure you get adequate sleep each night and at weekends. A regular 8 hours is much more beneficial to the system than a build-up of lost sleep followed by spending half the weekend in bed!
- Exercise regularly
Moderate physical activity is an excellent way of relieving stress. A regular exercise programme, even if it only involves a short walk or cycle, helps to clear the head and work the body. At particularly frustrating or worrying times, you might need to go for a long run, do some vigorous exercises or even take it out on a punchbag!
Performing on the day
- Get a good night's sleep
While the temptation is to stay up half the night 'cramming' in more facts and figures, the evidence suggests this approach is counter-productive. In the context of a two-year course, an extra night's studying can make very little difference to your knowledge. However, having a mind that is refreshed, alert, and ready to respond to circumstances will be of far greater benefit.
- Arrive in plenty of time: To perform well on the day, you need to be relaxed and to feel in control of the situation. This is difficult to achieve if you have missed breakfast and are stuck on a bus in traffic or standing on a train for 45 minutes as the exam time approaches. You will need about 15 minutes 'quiet time' to mentally rehearse your exam and run through your 'game plan' for the final time.
- Have your equipment ready
Each exam has its own requirements. Apart from properly functioning pens, pencils, rulers etc, you may need a calculator for the Maths, Physics or Economics exam. Coloured drawing pencils may be required for diagrams in Geography, Biology, or Art History. A lot of nervous energy can be expended on last-minute hassle if these items aren't checked in advance.
- Think positive
On the day of the exam, remind yourself of the good things (the material you know well, the revision you have completed, all the past exam questions done, the good grades achieved) rather than dwelling on areas of weakness. Having that self-belief will give you the confidence to trust your judgement within the exam hall and 'hit the target'.
- Maintain your focus
There can be a lot of tension, drama, and hysteria in the air on the days of an exam. You want to keep the balance between maintaining your focus and interacting normally with your friends and classmates. Try finding a quiet spot far from the madding crowd to 'warm-up' before each exam and 'warm-down' afterwards. Surround yourself with people who are likely to add to the calm rather than add to the clamour.
- Beware of post-exam analysis
The more you participate in the exam post-mortem, the more confused and disheartened you are likely to become. You can't change what has happened, you can only focus on the present and this will need your full attention, as the first seven days of the Leaving Cert represents a gruelling schedule.
Top Tips on Exam Strategy
Success in exams involves two ingredients - having a thorough knowledge of the subject matter AND making the most of your knowledge in the exam through effective answering technique. Two students with identical knowledge and attainment levels can sit the same exam and their final grades can differ by as much as 25%. The difference is down to having an effective strategy and exam technique.
Here are four golden rules to apply to all your papers in June:
- Allow time to read the paper carefully
The importance of reading the paper carefully and choosing your questions wisely cannot be emphasised enough at this stage. The natural inclination is always to start writing immediately and launch into a favoured topic. Resist the urge. Take your time. Be smart and size-up the paper before answering.
- Stick to your game plan
An overall strategy should have emerged from your revision and exam preparation in each subject. This covers the areas you will tackle, the topics you will avoid if they appear on the paper, the sequence in which you will tackle the various sections, the style of answering you will employ in each subject, the amount of time you will allocate to answering each section. In some cases, this plan will work like a dream but there will always be surprises to deal with in some papers. Don't get flustered. Stick to your game plan, trust your judgement, and move on.
- Sweep up any mistakes
In the pressure of the exam hall, it is easy to make elementary errors. These will sometimes have the potential to lose you a lot of valuable marks. Misreading the instruction on a question can render an entire answer invalid. You might have known the correct answer, but you didn't put it down. A simple miscalculation can lose you valuable time as you try to figure out the balancing item. Be disciplined with your time. Always leave a few minutes at the end to tidy-up errors. Simply changing a definition/formula/calculation at this stage could be the difference between a B1 and an A2 grade.
- Attempt all questions
It is amazing how many exam scripts are handed up unfinished. Every year, easy marks are lost by capable students who just didn't get time to finish the paper. Don't fall into this trap. Work on the basis that you will get an answer written for the required number of questions. Remember that it is much easier to get the first 20% of the marks for any question than the final 5%. You can always polish an answer further but, if there is no attempt made at part of a question, the examiner can't give you any marks.