For a number of students, the beginning of this academic year is particularly significant. At the end of the year they will be sitting some of the most challenging exams of their educational career. The stress and anxiety associated with the Leaving Certificate can come from a number of sources. Students may be worried about the time pressure involved in preparing so much in one academic year. They may experience demands to achieve academically. These demands come from both from themselves and from external sources. External sources include relatives, peers and teachers. This year is also a time when most students are burdened with making the decision of what they will do when they leave school. This can be as large a source of anxiety as the exams themselves.
Test anxiety affects us in a number of ways – physically, emotionally and behaviourally. One study suggests that students should have a ‘tool-box’ containing a mixed range of strategies. These would help a person to deal with this type of stress. If you or someone close to you is preparing to sit an important exam this year, try some of the following tips:
Goal-setting has long been recognised as a motivating force in work and study. It can help to alleviate stress by creating a feeling of control. At the beginning of the leaving certificate year, divide each subject into small sections. Set weekly targets for covering a number of sections. You might start with revision of work covered last year. Setting goals for a small amount of study now will be really worth it to alleviate worry in the long-term. Your future self will thank you in a few months!
Write a list of things you enjoy doing. Perhaps these include watching something online, baking a cake or going for a short walk. Once you have met one of your study goals, pick an activity from this list to reward your efforts. If you find yourself going into a negative mind space acknowledge these thoughts. Label them as being thoughts, not facts, and ask yourself if they are helpful. Trying to fight these thoughts probably won’t help but recognising them for what they really are – your mind’s reaction to the stressful situation you’re in – might.
Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing have been shown to reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. One symptom includes increased heart rate, which can happen immediately before an exam. Practice relaxation techniques throughout the year so you’re comfortable using them at times when you really need to benefit from them most. Try taking a deep breath, holding for 5 seconds and then slowly exhaling while focusing on how your body feels and reacts to this deep breathing.
By using this tool box of strategies, Leaving Certificate students can be confident they have put their best foot forward in preparing for the challenge ahead. Good luck!