Exam stress: Easy to practice mental self-care tips for students

Sabahat Fatima
May 11, 2022
Student well-being

Many students experience stress and anxiety before or during exams. This stress can take a toll on student well-being and academic performance. Exam anxiety can affect students physically and emotionally and, in some cases, can affect them academically for years. In this article, we sit down with Ms Sabahat Fatima, GIIS’ student counsellor, to ask her about common queries from students on how to manage and overcome exam anxiety.

1. Why can’t I remember what I have prepared for the exams even though I am thorough when studying?

When your brain is feeling anxiety or stress, the rational part of your brain is overcome by your emotions. As a result, when emotions take over, you may be unable to recall or recollect the things that you need to remember.

It helps to take a break for five minutes. Pause, breathe, drink water and start by coming up with basic points.

Calmly ask yourself questions. What do you remember?

Start by recalling what you do know, even if it's only one or two words. This will help you recall the rest of what you know. If, after taking a five or ten-minute break, you still can't remember, move on to the next question.

2. What if I do not get the pass marks?

Marks are very important because you need to go to the next grade - but they're not the sole purpose of exams.

Sometimes people have underlying reasons they can't get the grades they need. For someone who is having trouble with this, it's important to ask why. Knowing why you're having a hard time getting good marks can help you determine how to get the marks you're trying to get. Explore the problem with an expert, like a teacher or counsellor. Ask questions such as:

● Is this a recent problem, or is it long-term and ongoing?

● Do you know the answers to the questions but simply can't express them?

● Do you not remember the answers at all?

Poor marks may be a symptom of a larger problem. By finding and addressing the larger problem and getting appropriate support for it, it is possible to raise your subject grades.

3. I am afraid my exam scores might be disappointing to my parents. What should I do?

It's not unusual for students to be afraid of disappointing their parents. Many students address this by delaying telling their parents when there is a problem - but doing this only makes the problem worse. When you're having a hard time getting high marks, the best thing you can do is to tell your parents there is a problem.

It also helps to be proactive. For example, tell your parents you're having a problem, but have a potential solution to discuss with them. This could be an additional tuition class outside of school, studying with peers or asking a teacher in school for support when needed. By proposing a solution to your parents, you make the conversation easier for them and you.

Students should customise their study schedules to get the maximum benefit

4. I cannot sleep the night before my math (could be another subject) exams. What should I do? 

Anxiety can prevent people from sleeping, but unfortunately, tiredness can prevent you from performing well on exams. If you have exam anxiety, you're almost certain to have trouble sleeping before an exam. Some students try to address this problem by taking dramatic steps like drinking multiple cups of coffee or studying for 8-9 hours continuously before the exams. Taking dramatic steps, just before the examination day, can be counterproductive.

Start by taking just one step to improve your sleep before an exam. For example: maybe you take a nap every afternoon. On the day before an exam, try not to nap during the day. This will make you extra tired so that you can sleep longer and deeper at night.

Taking small steps to improve sleep is better than trying to change your entire routine the night before an exam. Drastic measures taken the night before an exam can worsen the problem.

5. Does it help to revise on the exam day morning?

There's no fixed way of studying. For example, some people may perform better when they revise in the morning; others may get little value from this practice because their brain is less productive in the morning. So it's most important to ensure that you use a learning technique that works for you - whether that's revising in the morning or getting extra sleep in the morning.

Schedule realistically, organise breaks

Students are often worried about scheduling and organising breaks. They're concerned about getting enough time for studying - but they're also aware they need breaks, and they're not sure how to schedule this. Here’s how you can get started:

● Make a realistic schedule.

● Plan breaks that are half, or almost half, as long as the amount of time you plan to spend studying.

● Schedule breaks in every session.

● Customise your study schedule to your needs and what works for you, regardless of your friends' study schedules.

Quick daily check-up tips for students

Have internal checks with yourself. Explore your emotions and know why you're feeling what you're feeling. If you're experiencing a lag in your day-to-day routine, ask yourself why. Here are some tips:

● At the end of each day, think of three things that went well during the day. Perhaps you could even start a gratitude journal to give you perspective.

● Once you've thought of three things that went well, think of three things you could have improved.

● Avoid the impulse to think derogatory thoughts about yourself.

How GIIS helps students

GIIS helps students by fostering positive student/teacher relationships and promoting two-way communication between our staff and students. We've also created the Happiness Index, implemented the GIIS Healthline, and instituted a no-questions-asked, open-door policy for our students to meet with our counsellors, whenever they want to be heard in private. (For GIIS Singapore, the healthline number is +65 9723 4938.)

Most of all, we're focused more on student growth rather than student failure to prevent our students from feeling the pressure that can prevent them from achieving their academic and life goals.

Also read: How to foster student wellbeing? Here’s what we do at GIIS

Singapore is a nation focused on mental well-being, and international schools in Singapore are increasingly focused on providing mental health care to students.

At GIIS, we've implanted a variety of policies that promote good student mental health and wellness. 

If you are keen to learn more about our healthy school life at GIIS, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly admissions counsellors.

Sabahat Fatima

Sabahat Fatima has completed her Masters in Applied Psychology with specialisation in counselling. She has worked in both clinical as well as school settings. She has successfully researched into the field of educational psychology, focusing on academic confidence and learning environment. She is a member of Singapore Association of Counselling. She is further exploring how positive psychology can shape and benefit young minds. She is the Behaviour Counsellor at the GIIS Smart Campus, Singapore.

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