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Stressed about your Leaving or Junior Cert? Here are some tips to help you stay calm

Get plenty of sleep and exercise, and remember that anxiety is normal.

File photo from Trinity Comprehensive Secondary School in Ballymun, Dublin.
File photo from Trinity Comprehensive Secondary School in Ballymun, Dublin.
Image: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

THE LEAVING AND Junior Certificate exams are due to start on Wednesday.

More than 100,000 students across the country are preparing, and the coming days and weeks will be a stressful time for many people.

Terri Morrissey, Chief Executive Officer of the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), told TheJournal.ie: “Exams can be stressful, it is normal to feel some anxiety. It is important, however, not to let it overwhelm you.

“Make sure that you look after yourself, eat well, get enough rest.”

Morrissey said students should “think positively” and “try not to dwell on how you did on each paper”, noting that it’s better to “focus on your next one instead” and “how can you show what you have learnt in preparing for the exam”.

The PSI and youth mental health organisation ReachOut has compiled advice to help students handle the exam period.

Here are their top 10 tips:

1. Exam time can be an anxious, stressful and a potentially overwhelming experience. Test-taking anxiety is normal and because anxiety is an emotion it will pass if you give it time. The more you fight it, the longer it will last.

2. Don’t forget to mind yourself, especially in the following ways:

  • You should be aiming for eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, make sure to try to wind down before going to sleep. You don’t go from fifth gear straight to first gear when driving a car, your mind works similarly – it needs time to slow down before sleep.
  • Make sure to eat regularly. Keeping up the car analogy, a car won’t run without petrol in it. Eat regular meals and eat well – this will help your ability to think, concentrate and last the distance.
  • Exercise will help to relieve some of the build-up of stress and improve your mood. Try to build it into your plan: walk the dog, go for a swim or cycle or anything that gets you active.
  • Make time for some fun: it’s not only allowed, it’s recommended. Schedule in specific things you enjoy doing at weekends or during breaks between exams.

3. Have the practical issues organised in advance, not at the last minute. You should know the following:

  • What’s my timetable for the exam period — have I a printed copy?
  • How am I travelling to the exams?
  • What do I need for each exam — pens, rulers, calculator, exam number?

4. The run-up to exams as well as the exams themselves can be a very tiring time, both physically and mentally. There’s a tendency during these times to increase our caffeine intake.

Caffeine is a stimulant, the impact of which can mimic feelings of anxiety and interfere with our ability to sleep and concentrate. Where you can, minimise your intake of caffeine during exam time.

shutterstock_560652649 Source: tkyszk/Shutterstock

5. Try to keep some perspective. Ask yourself the question, in 10 years’ time are you likely to remember what grades you got in the exams? That’s unlikely.

6. Try not to despair, this leads to an increase in anxiety which can impact on exam performance. It’s more helpful to focus on what you can do vs what you can’t do or didn’t do.

7. Remember, no matter how the exams go you always have options; to repeat, to get experience, to return to school as a mature student. As much as you might worry that they do, exams don’t define you as a person. We’re all more interesting and important than a grade on an exam.

8. Post-mortems: dwelling on what has already happened will only mess with your head, it doesn’t help because you can’t change the past. Exams rarely turn out as badly as we predict they will.

There’s a temptation to take the post-mortem online via social media, something that is also unlikely to be helpful. We recommend trying to leave the last exam behind you and focus on what you can do for the next exam.

9. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed make sure to talk to someone – friends, family, a teacher – you’re not going through this experience alone, support is available.

10. Remember, exams are time-limited, there is an end in sight, and a hopefully long and enjoyable summer break ahead.

For information about more support services that are available, visit ReachOut.com.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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