- June 12, 2023
Matura exam, polonaise and start in life
The completion of the process of preparing high school graduates for matura exams is at hand – there are just a few days left until the start of the matura exams session. It is clear that another group of high schoolers has had to face the challenges of quarantine and the situation in Ukraine in their time. All involved – teachers, psychologists, parents, and even the high schoolers themselves – acknowledge that preparing for exams is always a difficult process.
That’s why today we’re going to focus on talking about stress management and planning your preparation process for the final exams. Any psychologist will confirm that feeling anxious about important events in life, such as exams, is natural. A slight dose of excitement triggers the production of adrenaline in the body and slightly raises concentration levels, enabling better use of mental resources. But when can we talk about healthy anxiety, and when does it become a hindrance to concentration and exam preparation? How can we deal with ‘excessive’ stress so that it does not get in the way of preparing for and successfully passing the matura exams?
Put examinations in the right context
Experts in the field of psychology suggest an unusual way to combat exam anxiety – putting exams in context. When we start treating exams as a pivotal event that defines our entire existence, it is inevitable that stress will spike, and dealing with it can become extremely difficult. It is therefore important to understand that exams, however bizarre they may seem, are not the main axis of our lives. It is just one stage that is not decisive for our entire being.
So it is important to ‘put it in the right place’: what is the real role of these exams in my life? There are many different paths to achieving certain goals, and exams are just one of them. It may be that you don’t pass maths this year and don’t get into your dream university, but there is always the option of spending a year in voluntary work or starting a different course of study.
According to psychology experts, it is important to realise that exams are an important event, but they are only one means to an end, and if you fail, it does not mean the end of the world – you will always be able to pursue your ambitions.
Signals of ‘harmful’ stress
Stress can have its ‘good’ sides. It is a type of stress that mobilises the body to be ‘ready’ for action, to take on challenges that focus all our resources on achieving a goal. However, prolonged stress seems to ‘paralyse’, block the thinking process, and prevent concentration.
How to deal with it? The key is to identify long-term stress and take appropriate steps. Symptoms of long-term stress, and signs that the body is beginning to have problems coping with this stress, include: disruption of the eating cycle (lack of appetite or, conversely, uncontrolled eating), sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night), weakened immunity. Irritability, anger fits, and self-esteem crises (“I am not able to do anything”, “I am inferior compared to my peers”, etc.) may also occur.
Such increased stress should first be neutralised. In such a situation, you should talk to those closest to you – parents, grandparents. But if the stress has affected everyone in the household and the atmosphere at home is tense, it is worth consulting a professional. The most important thing is not to be afraid, because there is nothing shameful about it. This is a powerful thing – understanding that you need help and going for it at the right time. Not just when a high schooler sits down to write an essay and experiences paralysis.
If the stress is ‘normal’ (short-term, exam-related, and somewhat controllable), you should continue with your preparation strategy. A timetable of final preparations can be prepared – how many days are allocated to each subject, what you plan to repeat, and which topics require more detailed study. Evening planning the following day helps to regain balance. It is also important to maintain a balance between work and free time. Allow yourself to meet up with friends, relax by playing computer games (remember moderation), or undertake other activities. These will help you to relax and regain your energy.
It is important to be able to distinguish what is crucial and to focus on the tasks that require immediate attention or are the most important. If you learn systematically, demonstrate enthusiasm, show responsibility and, when you encounter learning obstacles, don’t get discouraged and keep improving your skills, the risk of stumbling during the exam becomes minimal. Don’t expect to be able to learn or repeat all the material in the remaining few weeks, but do your best to practise on exam tasks by repeating concise and well-organised information.
It is worth limiting the time spent on social media, phone calls, etc. There is often a desire to postpone unpleasant things. However, there’s a paradox – the longer you put off an unpleasant task, the more complicated and unpleasant it becomes, and you spend more time feeling anxious.
Finally, if you have already managed to draw up a preparation plan and have started to follow it, the last task is to “allow yourself to get excited” during the exam itself. We often hear the question: how do you overcome stress during an exam? Remember that feeling worried is a natural human reaction.
And we, as teachers or parents, should tell our high school students: anxiety is a normal entity, but even with anxiety you are capable of going and writing an exam today as well as you can. It is also important to master calming techniques before the exam to help control stress. These techniques vary: breathing, calculating, or trying to imagine something nice. Everyone has experienced stress before exams, so it’s a good idea to use the experience to help you deal with it already. It is a good idea to realise that exams are not some kind of monster. Matura exams are more about saying goodbye to school and celebrating – yes, you have to face challenges, but you also mature during exams.
Translated by Jakub Teleszczuk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.