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How To Deal With Fears & Regain Focus

matric finals

Matric pupils sometimes find that doubts and anxieties may creep in and affect their performance. Education Expert Sifiso Minisi of the IIE, below addresses the three specific times when fear and panic may take hold and how matric pupils can identify the situation, face and deal with it so that equilibrium can be restored for optimum success.

Matrics: the 3 times that anxiety can creep up during final exam prep

The next few weeks are going to be a whirlwind for South Africa’s Matric Class of 2019, as they cram in their final exam prep while trying to remain calm, collected and focused ahead of each assessment. This is a tall order given the mountains of work they need to conquer, while also juggling the admin of ensuring they don’t drop the ball on any of their subjects.

“It goes without saying that you should now be revising as best you can, to ensure you perform as well as possible when final assessment time rolls around,” says Sifiso Mnisi, Head of Programme: Faculty of Humanities at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education institution.

“However all the preparation in the world will count for little if you are in a state of mental disarray, and don’t have a handle on doubts and anxieties that may creep in,” he says.

Mnisi says there are specifically three times when fear and panic may take hold during coming weeks, and each of these situations should be identified, faced and dealt with so that equilibrium can be restored in the minds of learners: 1) In the weeks and days before exams, as time to revise runs out, 2) During exams when it can be hard to determine where attention should be focused and 3) In the actual exam room.

“Firstly, we advise parents and learners to always, always, keep a sense of perspective, and for learners to keep doing their best knowing that no matter what happens, there will always be options. So don’t at this stage waste valuable emotional energy thinking about the what ifs. Banish these concerns from your mind, and resolve to cross future bridges when you get to them.

“Your focus should now be squarely on revision and preparing to sit for exams, not concerns about the future,” he says.

CHALLENGE 1: KEEPING CALM AS EXAMS DRAW CLOSER AND TIME TO REVISE RUNS OUT

The upcoming exams is a culmination of 12 years of hard work, and it can feel daunting to reflect on the fact that it all comes down to how you are going to perform in a few weeks’ time.

Until now, you may have felt that even if you are behind, tomorrow is another day. However with the tomorrows running out fast and furiously, many learners may start feeling concerned and even a little panicky.

“When you start getting worried, remember that the best antidote to anxiety is action. Don’t forget how much work you have already put in, and trust the process. If you are having particular concerns about a certain subject, make time to complete another past paper, or chat through your concerns with your teacher.

“And don’t let your fear turn into procrastination because you can’t face the mountain of work you still want to get through. Use your time productively, ensure you get enough exercise and sleep, and push all other thoughts aside. Resolve to address your worries – if they still exist – after the exams, and throw all your energy into doing the work, rather than thinking about the work that you still need to do,” Mnisi says.

CHALLENGE 2: KEEPING CALM DURING EXAMS, BETWEEN PAPERS

Once the big day arrives when you sit for your first paper, the whirlwind will intensify. There will be almost no time left for deep revision, and you’ll have to make a call on what to study with the limited time you have, and also how to study. Past papers? Reading through all the work again? Going back to your notes and diagrams?

“The key here is to stay the course and stick to what has worked for you until now. Don’t get distracted by your friends swotting up on a certain subject in a certain way. You know where more attention is needed, and what method of study works best for you.

“It is also very important not to dwell on what lies behind you. If things didn’t go well when you wrote a paper this morning, and you have to prepare for your next paper tomorrow, apply your focus and energy where it can still make a difference, on that which lies ahead. Again, shelve away the worry until later, to deal with only if your concerns actually turn out to have been valid.

“Equally, don’t let a good performance on one paper make you sit back and relax. Work for each and every point, as even marginal improvements in performance can have a major impact on your post-Matric options.”

CHALLENGE 3: KEEPING CALM IN THE EXAM ROOM

Even with the best preparation, the realities of the exam room mean that some learners may experience a mid-exam meltdown. These are not unusual, and is often the result of burnout, lack of sleep and the buildup of stress over the past few months.

Key to dealing with panic in the exam room, is to know what is happening.

“If you feel yourself starting to breathe rapidly, become light-headed or like you are out of your depth and can’t do this, recognise what is going on and take back control. Understand that you are panicking, and regain your focus. Then resolve to do as well as possible on this paper and to do what you can. Again, action is the antidote to anxiety.

“Read through the paper and start on those questions that you are able to answer, then go back to those ones which are more challenging. Do as much as you can with the time you have available, and keep perspective while keeping calm.”

Mnisi says the final exams are not only a test of knowledge, but also of mettle under pressure.

“A calm and focused mind is one of your strongest weapons. By keeping the big picture in mind while at the same time ensuring you are as well prepared as possible, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability.

“And keeping the big picture in mind means that you understand your exam performance, while important, is not the last word on your future. Regardless of what happens, whether you perform above expectations or not as well as expected, there are countless roads that lead to success.”

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