How to cope with exam pressure

How to cope with school exam stress

In today’s competitive world, learners have to meet the demands of the classroom while at the same time taking time out for self-study and exam preparation. All these goings-on can put the learner under a tremendous amount of pressure, and writing exams can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety. However, there are various ways to prevent these pressures.  Proper revision and time management can not only overcome examination fear, but also get the desired results.

In the run up to the exams, these tips will help learners deal with exam pressures:

  • Organise study materials upfront (current and past papers) and create a study plan
  • Ensure that there is a dedicated study area with all the tools required like pens, pencils, highlighters, calculators, rulers etc.
  • Take regular breaks – like a walk or conversation with a friend that will take your mind away from your studies for a little while
  • Exercise regularly
  • Follow a healthy eating plan to give your body and mind the energy it needs to perform at its best
  • Get enough sleep – try for at least 8 hours every night

In the exam room:

  1. Wear a watch to the exam.
  2. Read the ‘instructions’ first to determine how much time you are required to spend on each question.
  3. Re-read all the questions again so that the instructions are clear in your mind.
  4. Underline key instruction words as it’s easy to mistake what is being asked, causing you to answer in the wrong way.
  5. Proofread all your answers, checking spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Understanding exam instructions

Exam questions usually include some kind of instruction on how you are to answer them. For instance, a question that asks you to define a concept will require a different kind of answer to one that asks you to analyse it. The table below gives some common instruction words and explanations of how to interpret them.

Instruction word What you have to do
Analyse Take apart an idea, concept or statement and examine and criticise its sub-parts in detail. You have to be methodical and logical.
Assess Describe a topic’s positive and negative aspects and say how useful or successful it is, or consider its contribution to knowledge, events or processes (this is usually about how important something is).
Criticise Point out a topic’s mistakes or weaknesses as well as its favourable aspects. Give a balanced answer (this will involve some analysis first).
Compare Put items side by side to see their similarities and differences – a balanced (objective) answer is required.
Contrast Emphasise the differences between two things.
Define Give the meaning of an idea, either a dictionary definition or from an academic authority in your subject of study (technical definition).
Describe Give details of processes, properties, events and so on.
Discuss Describe, explain, give examples, points for and against, then analyse and evaluate the results.
Evaluate Similar to discuss, but with more emphasis on a judgement in the conclusion.
Examine Take apart and describe a concept in great detail.
Explain Give detailed reasons for an idea, principle or result, situation, attitude and so on. You may need to give some analysis as well.
Illustrate Give concrete examples – including figures or diagrams. Illustrate is usually added on to another instruction.
Interpret Explain and comment on the subject and make a judgement (evaluation).
Justify Give reasons to support a statement – it may be a negative statement, so be careful!
List Provide an itemised series of parts, reasons or qualities, possibly in a table.
Prove/disprove Provide evidence for or against and demonstrate logical argument and reasoning – you often have to do this for abstract or scientific subjects.
Relate Emphasise the links, connections and associations, probably with some analysis.
Review Analyse and comment briefly, in organised sequences – sentences, paragraphs or lists – on the main aspects of a subject.
State Give the relevant points briefly – you don’t need to make a lengthy discussion or give minor details.
Suggest Give possible reasons – analyse, interpret and evaluate. (This is also the verb most commonly used to quote another author.)
Summarise or outline Just give the main points, not the details.
Trace Give a brief description of the logical or chronological stages of the development of a theory, process, a person’s life and so on. Often used in historical questions.

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