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STOP Exam Anxiety

Exams.

Are.

Coming.

I can understand the kind of anxiety that arises from that message.

In my days, my JC would hang a giant banner across the parade square, such that every morning, all the students would see how many days are left before A-levels. Trust me when I say, it was rather stress-inducing banner. Now having mentored students of my own, I see them going through the same emotions I felt in my earlier days. Anxiety and stress are commonplace for the typical JC student in Singapore, especially since it is so high stakes and competitive. If you’re a student yourself, you probably don’t need me to explain that to you. I hope that through this article, you will gain a better understanding of this emotion called “anxiety,” how it came about, and what actions you can take to overcome it, rather than it overwhelming you.

Let’s try to understand this first, why do we get anxious? The answer is simple, and in fact, helpful for our ancestors living in the past- it gives us a sense of potential danger to act against and protect ourselves. This served very well for those who lived in a hostile and dangerous environment. Imagine living in the wild, where your daily “grind” is ensuring there is enough food to last the week, assuming you didn’t get attacked by predators or ate some poisonous plant you were ignorant of. Back then, being careful literally meant having a higher chance of survival. Is it really a surprise then, as descendants of these ancestors, that we have this programming against danger, called “anxiety?” No wonder our palms get sweaty, our heart races, and our bellies start swelling with butterflies. We experience anxiety in such a visceral way, it is as if the danger in front of us is life-threatening.

Great, so we know that anxiety is just a defense mechanism that served our ancestors well in the past, and we feel it very strongly. Let’s deal with it.

Now at this point, I could talk about various ways/ therapies for stress. (Sleep more, eat healthier, exercise, heck, even chew gum or use scented candles). That is fine. But I firmly believe it is way better to tackle the problem at the source rather than solely cushion its impact. If anxiety is a reaction to potential danger (in this case, potentially not doing well for your exams), shouldn’t we take action against that certain danger?

So these are the 3 steps I recommend to you to deal with your exam anxiety:

  1. Acknowledge the message.
    Anxiety is telling us : “Danger. We are not confident of surviving (ie doing well for exam).”
    Understand the message, rather than indulge in the emotion.
    Now, respond. Either choose to commit to doing well, or give up altogether. There is no right or wrong, but stick to the decision wholeheartedly. Otherwise, your brain does not know what to make of it, and will soon keep pressing on the “panic” button, sending you more anxiety over and over.
  2. Make preparations
    Start by planning around your exam date, and setting a goal. Work with the number of days you have left, and create a feasible strategy you can implement to achieving that goal you have set.
  3. Time-lining your strategy
    Breakdown your goal into actionables for a week to week, day to day basis. One effective method is to create checklists to clear, so that you see clearly each day what you need to accomplish.

Once you start doing these 3 steps, the intensity of anxiety should be alleviated. Of course, you must actually implement your plan, and not deceive yourself otherwise.

If the problem with anxiety still persists in spite of these actions, consider talking to your teachers. Alternatively, you may also schedule an appointment with me, and we can discuss about your situation and refine your strategy to overcome it. (Contact info at the bottom of this page)

If you have read till this point, I must commend you. Not many students have the attention span long enough to read such a lengthy article on a random web-page online. I hope that this article has been of value to you, and I wish you all the best. Now, close this page and go do your revision!

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