Saturday, 16 May 2015

Dealing with Exam Stress

Bit of a different post today, but as I have my IGCSE exams from Monday until 10th June I've been thinking about them a lot. I'm stressed, you're stressed - we're all stressed. So, here's something I wrote in the hopes that it will help not only me but also some of you. 

Note: this entire post is based on how things work in the English education system. Most of this should still apply to people in other countries, but grades I mention might not. 

Here's the thing. No one should be pressuring or expecting you to get the very highest grades in every single exam you do. That's just going to make you feel worse. They're probably only looking out for you, but in this situation you can ignore them and do what feels right for you and only you. Hey, you might be capable of getting the highest grades in every single subject and if so then that's amazing and you should feel proud of yourself, but I find that the best thing to do is aim for a C. If you get that, then great - you've passed! If you get higher, that's a bonus and you should treat yourself to cake. Put enough pressure on yourself that you revise a substantial amount, but don't drive yourself into the ground with stress. 

Imagine someone who revises all day. every day. They don't schedule time out for themselves, they haven't seen their friends in months and it's quite possible that the last time they read a book or watched TV was some months ago. They cry a lot, but they keep going even though they feel a bit dead.

That is the kind of thing that does more harm than good. It's incredibly important and perfectly okay to balance revision with fun stuff, not to mention the fact that you need to eat and keep hydrated. Otherwise you'll drive yourself mad. Scheduling time for you is important, and that leads onto my next point...

When revision gets too much and you're contemplating ripping up the past paper you're doing, have a nap, go for a run, or watch funny YouTube videos. You've clearly reached your limit so any revision you do after that isn't going to benefit you at all. Take some time out and come back to it calmer and refreshed.

At the end of the day, no matter what anyone tells you, your results do not define you. How can a single letter sum up how creative, intelligent, funny and kind you are? It doesn't say anything about you as a person except how much you managed to remember about a certain topic on a certain day. And it's not the end of the world if you don't pass your exams first-time - resits exist for a reason, and that reason is that lots of people have to do them every single year. There's no shame in it.

Exams are great for certain people and their results will allow them into the university of their choice or the career that they like the look of. But the world does not revolve around exam results, thankfully. In my opinion, staying happy and healthy is the most important thing. You could have all A*s but be really unhappy. You could have all Cs or lower but be happy, healthy and still experiencing lots of different things. Exams are important, of course, but not life-defining. There are always other options and if you're passionate enough about something, you'll get it.

Overall, do what's best for you, but remember: keep hydrated, don't push yourself past the point of exhaustion - seriously, guys, revising all night is not going to help - and make sure you're taking time out of your day to relax. If you balance it well, you'll be fine.

This may be hypocritical coming from the girl who fully expects to cry through her Maths papers, but there's more to life than exams. And now I'm going to stop sounding like a school counsellor. *steps off soap box*

Do you have any exam advice?


  1. I also find that finding a balance is definitely great. And finding a routine that works for you, after all, we all learn differently so why would we revise in the same way?
    But definitely knowing that your exams aren't the end all of your future definitely helps. No matter what, education will always be on the table - and not just about school required subjects but also NVQs and job training.
    - Great post Amber!

  2. My exam advice is probably not to have a fixed mindset. I think it is better to have mini goals like getting at least a C or even a B in this or that other test, then getting 40% in a past paper and just working up until you're content with yourself. My sister did so well in her GCSE exams but she didn't really feel happy even though she had passed with flying colours. Passing meant that she had to do Higher Biology, Maths, Film Studies, Theory Of Knowledge, English Lit&Lang, Higher Economics and Italian at IB Level which she was more stressed about than happy about. (She has to do 6 subjectsby the way). I think that schools should teach that your grades do not define you as a person because the amount of times I have heard people laugh at others who had gotten a D in their test because they 'aren't clever enough.' I personally once burst into tears after I got my maths results back which were at around a C level (That was not even a bad grade), around a year later for some weird reasons I am working at an A* star level (I surprise myself a lot!)
    Naomi @The Perks Of Being A Bookworm

  3. I'm in the IB program and it teaches you to simultaneously stress out and not worry about anything at all! The biggest thing you can do to not become to stressed is to just get things done as they come and plan everything out so that your goals are attainable and eventually, without you even knowing it, everything will work itself out. It always does!

    And drinking chai does help too!

    But the biggest thing to realize that school is but a stage in the greater play that is your life so enjoy it while it's happening! :)

  4. This is all really good advice. I don't know how familiar you are with the Irish education system but it's fairly rigorous. Basically, you go into secondary school at age 13 and then in third year you have the Junior Certificate. In this you do ten subjects minimum (I think, I did twelve) and it covers all the first three years. You then have a year called Transition Year in which you get time to relax, do work experience, go on school trips and things like that, and then you have two years of hell. Fifth and Sixth year both build up to the Leaving Cert. I'm doing eight subjects for that. Basically, your grade determines the amount of points you get (for example, at the moment an A1 in Higher Level will give you 100 points). Your best six subjects are picked and the points are totalled up. The college course you can do is totally dependant on the amount of points you get. Basically, if you want to do Law but don't get enough points, tough, you have to do something else. I did my Junior Cert last year and I'm coming near to the end of TY. When doing my JC I found that watching TV was really good for relieving stress. I was able to lose myself for 40-50 minutes and forget everything, which was pretty great. To be honest I think you pointed out everything important in your post so I don't think I can really add anything to that. Best of luck in your exams!

  5. "At the end of the day, no matter what anyone tells you, your results do not define you. How can a single letter sum up how creative, intelligent, funny and kind you are? It doesn't say anything about you as a person except how much you managed to remember about a certain topic on a certain day. And it's not the end of the world if you don't pass your exams first-time - resits exist for a reason, and that reason is that lots of people have to do them every single year. There's no shame in it."

    I can't tell you how much this post means to me.
    I was never "smart" or bright and got checks (instead of check pluses) throughout elementary school. Through some good old determination, I had all A's and one B through middle and high school.
    Then it hit me. Why the hell was I in school? I wasn't learning anything I couldn't learn by myself. It didn't help that I was in a horrible school just like you. Teachers didn't care and our dean would always remind us that our school was on the verge of students...please try.
    By the time I had 3 months of high school left, I was burnt out.

    It didn't matter that I got into a "GOOD" college.
    When I went to orientation, people were asking me about my test scores and judging me. It didn't help that I'm Asian and people called me a "dumb Asian" instead of dumb. After I got my first F, my cousins and relatives (and my parents) called me dumb and/or lazy. "Why can't you just try? You had all those A's before?" I became an insominac from all the stress. I'm not an optimistic person so all that negativity got to me. I failed out of college. I still get crap for it every now and then, but I'm in a better place. :D


    so my point is, DONT LET A GRADE DEFINE YOU.
    You're NOT dumb. Everyone is "smart" at different things.
    If you're reading this (whoever you are), your grades matter for the few years you're in school and after you graduate. I can't lie to you and say that they're not important. But the stress and self-loathing you inflict on yourself isn't worth it. Yes, people care about your grades and where you went to university, but by the time you reach your late 20s, it's all about who you know and your work experience.

    if you want to withdraw for a semester or a quarter, DO IT.
    Don't EVER be ashamed.
    You are NOT a failure even if everyone around you says so. Don't compare yourself with others. Everyone learns at their own pace. Don't pressure yourself into finishing college in 4 yrs like I did. If you need a gap year or you want to take a break for a semester/quarter, do it.

    Be healthy. Take care of your body and mind.