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The psychology behind surviving exam season…

Sitting final exams are one of the toughest situations that we as students will ever have to face. It’s just…hard, stressful, nerve-racking. But what is it that really causes the overwhelming amount of stress and how do we go about coping with it?

Fear. This can be the fear of failure, the fear of disappointing our parents, the fear that one will not be able to remember the correct information and in turn ‘screw up’ their paper. These are all causes that most of us find difficult to overcome. But I cannot give the cliche advice that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, because In my opinion that is much easier said than done. Rather, how do we go about conquering that fear during exam time?

Look at the cause of your fear. With any situation, to overcome it we have to see what it is a result of first. If you’re scared that you won’t be able to remember the correct information, DO EXAM PAPERS!! Prepare yourself by putting yourself in the same situation as you would be in the real exam. Set a stopwatch so that you can time yourself and once you have finished, use the mark scheme to see your strengths and weaknesses. Once you have identified where more work needs to be done, you can revise certain parts more thoroughly so that you’re less likely to struggle in the real thing.

If your situation is rather something that includes being scared you’ll fail, talk to someone about it. Mental health is becoming an increasing issue for students, particularly because of the constant pressure from the things and people around us. Your family, friends and your teachers are there to help you and lend you a shoulder and an ear. Don’t be afraid to approach them and let it out. You will feel much better knowing you are alone and you’ll be surprised that even adults can go through the same emotions that you do.

So can I only offer psychology advice to tackle emotional problems, or can I help with the more practical side too?

Studies have found that a strategy called ‘retrieval practice’ is helpful in improving students memory. This includes learning, revising and understanding content for your subjects, then going back over the information from time to time. A useful way to do this is to begin by creating flashcards and mindmaps to condense content. Though revision and guides and study packs have great notes, it is better that you not only just read but also write your own notes to correspond with your understanding. Then, each week read over your notes or condense them further until single words can stimulate your memory. For example, saying the word ‘plant cell’ can mean you can list all of its properties from memory, rather than having to read through all your notes again.

‘How will I remember everything for the exam?’ is probably the most frequent question we all ask ourselves during exam time. But many of us dwell over it up until the last moment, where we tell ourselves ‘it is what it is’ and go into the exam with a deep breath. Whilst that is the last resort, there are better ways to prepare so that one feels more confident when the time comes.

Making mental associations are a fantastic way to remember information. Link ideas to familiar images and things, such as a snake for Macbeth, to remember the quote ‘look the innocent flower but be a serpent under’t’. Or make up your own mnemonics and stories, such as a story of a rainy day to remember the water cycle for biology. They may sound silly, but they are a great memory strategy.

Though active revision is key, taking care of your health is just as crucial. Ensure you are taking breaks in between and doing work little and often, rather than for long period of hours as it has been shown to be better for recalling. Remember that sleep enhances learning ability so your aim to do an ‘all mightier’ before the exam, may not be the best option. And finally, make sure you take out some time for yourself. Your physical and mental health will both impact your exam performance!

Faatimah Sidat