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Beating the study blues: How to prepare mentally and emotionally for high school exams

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Being prepared mentally and emotionally is the key to success in the final high school exams. Barbara Cooper offers some practical advice for stressed-out students.

Exam nerves are a completely normal emotion that we all experience from time to time. In fact, a little adrenaline can push you forward to perform well under pressure. It gives you the ‘kick’ to power through the final high school exams and work to a time limit. However, test anxiety can be far more intense for some and cause physical effects.

While you can find ways to manage anxiety, for longer-lasting relief what you really need to do is to go to the heart of the fear. For a number of reasons known only to you, you see the forthcoming exams as a threat. Your body may respond with ‘fight or flight’ sensations that include sweaty hands, dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, stomach pain or compulsive eating. These can be the body’s  ay of saying: ‘I don’t like this – I’m afraid!’ So what is it that you are afraid of?

Things to consider 

An exam answer cannot sum up everything about who you are but it does indicate what you know about the subject. So are you adequately prepared? Be honest! Do you know the subject content? Do you have a copy of each subject’s syllabus? If not – get to it – you need to.

Tests do not reflect your worth. You know your own value. You are not your older sibling. You have your own personality and strengths. Identify them. Use them.

Do your parents have unrealistic expectations of you? Talk to them. Did you know that many parents get nervous alongside their kids? Do you feel stressed? Talk to a parent/ teacher/ mentor to help you be realistic and get yourself organised. A third party can help with ideas and focus.

Exams assess what you know on a particular day and are not always the best indicator of your subject knowledge. But you can’t use this as an excuse.

If you get a lower grade than you want, the world will not end! Getting a B instead of an A will not stop you getting the job you want, finding the love of your life or travelling the world. Think of the bigger picture.

Practical things to do 

Without question, the first step to handling exam time stress is to be prepared, and that doesn’t mean just the night before. Steadily revising in the months ahead, going through previous exams to know what sort of questions might be asked, and then having time to seek the help of a teacher or tutor if you find something you don’t understand, should drastically reduce the stress you are feeling.

Make a revision plan that includes a time schedule. Be realistic! Itemise exam times, ferry times and other commitments. Even if you don’t stick to this rigidly, it creates an intention and starts the positive energy of moving forward. There is a sense of achievement and control as you tick off the days.

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Stay focused and concentrate fully on your exams. Memorise in ways that suit your learning style. Put post-it notes with mnemonics on your mirror; use mind maps, funny rhymes, memes, notes recorded on your smartphone, teachers’ YouTube lessons and small notebooks to revise on the bus or ferry. Try singing your revision notes!

Embrace repetition. Completing past exam papers is key and is vital for familiarising yourself with mark schemes. Remember, the examiner will mark your exam paper to those descriptors.

When you’re headed into a stressful time, where you are looking at weeks of intense study and assessment, you need to boost your good habits. Be positive and avoid negative conversations with friends. Don’t worry about what they have or haven’t done – motivate yourself.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need to. It’s good to talk about your feelings and find ways to change negative beliefs. Remember, test anxiety is manageable and treatable.

Last but not least, prioritise your well-being. Eat nutritious food, sleep well and exercise. Drink plenty of water. Keep off fizzy drinks and coffee. Ensuring that you are eating healthily, getting some exercise every day, and sleeping on a regular schedule will make sure that you are less vulnerable to anxiety at test time. You may have to quit or drastically reduce time spent on social media to make this happen. Consider asking a parent to take your phone before bed so that you can ensure you have time to unwind before bed and get the rest you need.

Gym, yoga, running and cycling are good for reducing your anxiety. Take exercise breaks when studying. Go outside, walk up the hill and use up your adrenaline. Exercise reduces stress, calms you and increases your concentration power. Use your sense of humour – laugh daily!


Barbara Cooper MBA, BA (Hons). Cert. Ed. offers personalised education mentoring services (including exam preparation and revision techniques) for Lantau students, aged 10 to 18. You can contact her at info@barbaracooper.me or 9754 2244.

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