Surviving the end of Yr 12……
As the end of the school year approaches, I’m guessing that many of you out there whether you are students or parents are experiencing a range of emotions about the end of the school year and upcoming exam period, including sadness about an era ending, excitement about a new beginning with greater independence and of course, exam anxiety.
One of the things that I have noticed over the years as a psychologist is how many people still remember Yr 12 so vividly. For some it is associated with a balance of study, relaxation and great friendships. Students with these memories recall great times, fantastic parties, first love, sporting and academic achievements, and “Schoolies” amongst the stress, but for many people I speak to, the memories could only be described as traumatic. Some remember it as associated with not fitting in, feeling depressed, stressed, unmotivated, isolated, misunderstood, “average” and simply “not being good enough”. Whatever your experiences of the year, it is easy for this to shape your approach and emotional response to the exams and remaining classes and study period. Sometimes we can forget the good times and narrowing our attention only on the challenging stuff.
Certainly most people I speak to remember that Yr 12 was associated with a fair share of stress as exam time approached. I know that I for one was glad to see the other side of those exams. For many students, the outcome of Yr 12 at this time of year seems like the most important and defining moment of their life. Some teachers may talk about the importance of being focused and studying hard to prepare for the challenge that will help determine the next path in life, while also recognising and expressing that Yr 12 results are not the be all and end all of life. However, often in my experience some students just hear the first message creating extreme pressure as exams approach. Parents may express their expectations or desires for their son or daughter covertly or overtly, often without even realising it. How many of you have watched your parents work hard and succeed at the top of their field and along with that heard about the importance and value of education? Despite being careful not to say anything, for a sensitive child wanting to be loved and accepted from high achieving parents, this often translates to intense pressure and performance anxiety about meeting the grade and disappointing their parents.
So what can you do to prepare for this challenging period ahead?
- Make sure you look after yourself and get adequate rest, good nutrition and take regular breaks from study. It is always important to keep the balance between studying hard and looking after yourself. There is no point turning up to an exam and falling asleep at the desk!
- Don’t give in to the temptation to study almost 100% of the time. This will certainly not produce peak performance. Although it is important to cut back responsibilities, it is still important to have social contact with family and friends to keep things balanced. This allows you to focus when you need to and recharge the batteries in readiness for another study session or exam performance.
- Remember that no matter what the year has held, there is no point dwelling on the past disappointments or upsetting times as all it will do is make it harder to study and focus on the present task. Whether you be studying for one exam or completing another, the most important thing to remember is to focus only on the task at hand and let go of thoughts that come and go and take you away from the moment. The time for reflection on past events is not now. If you get hooked in to that story about “not being good enough”, it will take you to a place of intense anxiety, low confidence, depression and procrastination.
- Sometimes it is difficult to keep going when the finish line is so close. Many students find it hard to sustain the effort involved throughout the final study period and over the course of all their exams. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. In those moments where you just feel like running away and getting as far away from exams as you could possibly get, be careful to remind yourself of what studying and focusing hard now will allow you to do with your life. Whether it be independence, further study, a career that you will love, pride in yourself for giving it your best shot, no matter what it is, there is something that will allow you to find a reason to face and have the discomfort when there is something in it for you that is very important. Speak to those who love you to gain some support at this time.
- Develop a pre exam routine that allows you to set yourself up for the exam in a positive way. Exam preparation is not just technical, but also requires adequate mental preparation and focus to achieve peak performance. Every person is different in what they need to prepare, but be careful about becoming too involved in discussing potential content with friends on the day of the exam as sometimes this leads to confusion and greater anxiety, reducing confidence and making it hard to access the information stored in your long term memory. Also be aware of the post mortem analysis of the exam immediately afterwards as this could escalate anxiety about performance in some cases given that the adrenalin is still running and emotions are charged.
- Remember that anxiety is a normal part of the exam experience and is simply your body’s way of letting you know that you are ready to tackle this challenge. You can befriend this anxiety, accept what is happening to your body and learn to channel this anxiety into peak performance. Deep breathing allows you to make room for these feelings. Remember to not get into a battle with the anxiety, but to practice acceptance of these feelings.
- Remember to focus on the questions, rather than everything else. We can easily get hooked by our thoughts or caught up in external distractions. What the student next to you is doing is not relevant for your performance in the exam, so stay with the questions and remind yourself to let go of worries about the outcome. When your mind says things like “I’m going to fail” or “I’m never going to get through this exam”, remind yourself of how unhelpful this is and refocus on the task at hand.
- If one exam doesn’t go so well, remind yourself that it is past history now and move on. There are more exams to go and they need your focus now.
- Remind yourself that the outcome of these exams is not life and death. No matter what your mind or other people have told you about the importance of your marks, in the end remember to put things in perspective. In 10 years time will you really remember what mark you got for English or Maths? Let go of the need to prove something to others as often all this does is create a level of pressure that adds to the natural level of anxiety that goes with the territory. Also, remember that the more we focus on the possible outcomes of our performance, the more anxiety we create.
- Finally, take time after the exams to enjoy yourself and your new found freedom from study. If you have studied hard, it will be easy to fully relax with your friends and enjoy some holidays before the next exciting and very different stage of your life begins. Take time to celebrate the fact that you survived.
If you need further support during this time, don’t forget to ask for help and reach out to someone to talk to, whether it be family, friends, your school counsellor, GP or a psychologist like myself. Many of us still remember what that time was like and will gladly offer support, encouragement and practical tools.
Subscribe to our newsletter Attuned Life
Would you be interested in receiving our occasional newsletter, event information and other useful tips via e-mail?