There’s a certain unique buzz that occurs only when the exams are around the corner. The canteen fills with students debating spiritedly about various exam topics. Several once-quiet corners become occupied by preoccupied faces scouring their handwritten notes and papers. The library becomes crowded once again, the cool air permeated with the soft sound of pens scratching away on paper.

However, amongst those studious faces, there will be a few ashen-faced ones. These unfortunate souls are usually those flipping through their lecture notes dispiritedly, or watching ostensible “educational videos” in a desperate bid to catch up on content before the exams arrive.

Whether you are of the former or the latter group, one thing is inevitable: You WILL enter the exam hall. You WILL take the exam. You WILL leave the exam hall with everyone else. It is easy to feel lost in a sea of chattering schoolmates, especially if they are comparing answers that are worryingly dissimilar to yours. You might find yourself beset with doubt, questioning if your efforts were all for naught. All these emotions test your resolve, as well as your mental health. Fortunately, I have some advice for that – advice which I hope will help you psychologically prepare for the exams.

First of all, stay healthy.

As Sherlock Holmes (the one played by Benedict Cumberbatch, not the other imposter) once said, “The brain is what counts. Everything else is transport.” Although I agree with the first part of Mr. Holmes’ sentence, I feel that the “transport” is equally as important. Just as cars need oil to function, so too does the body need exercise to work well.

The benefits of exercise are limitless. Exercise has been proved to be more effective than almost anything else (supplements, medication, etc.) in reducing stress. Firstly, it makes your heart pump extra blood to your brain, giving it the oxygen and nutrients to perform at maximum efficiency. Secondly, it signals the body to release several hormones (like serotonin and norepinephrine) that boost mood, attention, and learning. Finally, exercising also boosts one’s self-esteem and body image. It’s one thing to be cooped up for hours studying; it’s another, much worse feeling to feel like a lethargic and pudgy mess while doing so.

Personally, I tried to be as active as possible during my examination periods, whether by simply climbing stairs to my classroom or taking some time out for long walks around the school campus every other day. This was especially important before the A Levels started, since Physical Education (PE) classes – the one class where there was mandatory exercising – had stopped a few months before that.

Don't forget to stay genuine.

Few things are more draining than long hours of studying. When you stand up with a stiff back, rubbing your dry and tired eyes, it’s easy to feel like you have become a robot built just for exam cramming.  However, always remember who you are despite all this. Use some of your favourite songs for a study playlist. Go out for lunch with friends, even if all you talk about is how difficult studying is and how stressed out all of you are. The bottom line is, do activities that you like, and that make you happy. My fondest memories from studying for A Levels do not include the grim details of how many papers I did in a day, or the countless hours I spent studying – they are of my friends laughing over lunch, discussing some juicy gossip, or playing practical jokes on each other.

Above all, stay positive.

Although the situation may seem bleak, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You will face greater and more important things than your examinations, whether they be the PSLE, O Levels, A Levels, ad infinitum. You will have to prepare for job interviews, travel overseas alone, meet potential in-laws, and so on. There will be bills to pay, taxes to calculate, possible children to care for… and eventually, those pieces of paper in the exam hall will become less important and less all-encompassing. As Winston Churchill said once, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is that the courage to continue counts.”

Also, remember that you’re not alone in this stressful period. Your schoolmates, teachers and even parents are going through it with you. If you feel overwhelmed and in need of support, talking about it to people you trust will always be more helpful than bottling it all up and coping with it yourself.

A final note: you're not alone. 

It is an undeniable fact that our examination system is stressful and competitive, due to the lack of natural resources in Singapore and, consequently, the emphasis on developing human capital. This may or may not have contributed to a rise in the number of students suffering from exam stress. However, one can be prepared to face all this if there is sufficient help both academically and personally. As such, my view is that psychological preparation is as important as academic preparation. I believe that these insights can be applied to situations beyond school and I'm sure they will prepare you for a world beyond the ivory tower.

This article was written by our intern, Ms. Ai Xin Liew, a recent graduate of the Humanities Programme in Raffles Institution who hopes to go into the creative writing field. Her love for writing and the English language stems from her formative years studying Literature under dedicated teachers in both Raffles Girls’ School and Raffles Institution. Having worked extensively with children – particularly those of a vulnerable background – at the Singapore Children’s Society, Ai Xin feels it a privilege to contribute towards educating the next generation. Besides writing, her interests also include piano performance. She is next headed to New York University (NYU)’s College of the Arts & Sciences to pursue a BA.