Dear Thelma: I am sitting for my STPM and I am stressing out!

  • Living
  • Saturday, 25 Oct 2014

Learning to deal with exam stress.

Dear Thelma,

I did not do well in my SPM, so I took up STPM. But now that I am going to sit for my exams, I realise there are SO many things I need to remember; and worse still, my birthday is in the middle of it all. Everyone expects me to get good marks but

I feel that it is going to be really difficult for me to do that. I applied to a polytechnic but failed to get in. I am over-stressed by all the expectations of the people around me, and I really need help to deal with it. – Rex

Dear Rex,

It is difficult being a young student. You not only have to deal with your own ambitions but you also have to deal with other people’s expectations of you. It then becomes a challenge trying to manage what you want and the desire to not let others down.

The Form Six examination – STPM – is very different from SPM. It is a whole different set of subjects. And, also it’s a very different kind of approach and environment. Many people find it difficult. There is nothing wrong in that.

The thing is, just because you did badly in your SPM, it does not mean you will do badly in future exams. Also, just because one does well in one’s SPM, it does not mean one will do well in the STPM. It doesn’t work that way.

Even if you did badly in your SPM, you did well enough to be accepted into the STPM level. That means a lot. You should not disregard that fact.

You had a plan, an ambition maybe, to get into a polytechnic school. That went pear-shaped. But that is all right. This is life. You make plans but circumstances change. You can change along with them and make something out of the situation. Or you can lament and complain about how you can’t do what you wanted to do and become stuck.

The former is the better choice as it is not only less stressful in the long run, but it also poses a chance to grow and become a better person. Yes, it is going to be disappointing that you didn’t get what you wanted. But that does not mean what you did get cannot be fun, interesting and an avenue for success. One of the hallmarks of a person with emotional maturity is the ability to change according to the needs and demands of a situation.

So, you say you need help. What kind of help do you need, though? Everyone at some point or another in life would need help. The thing is, if you don’t know what kind of help you are looking for, how would you know when it is offered?

Also, when you don’t know what kind of help you are looking for you are likely to become frustrated due to feeling that others are not helping you when, in fact, they are. What tends to happen is that you inadvertently turn away people who want to help. In this case, it is easy to become upset at and disappointed with others.

The first thing you have to do, therefore, is to identify what you need help with. If it is help with your studies so that you can get the high marks everyone expects you to, there is plenty of help available. You can form a study group. These groups really work as long as you are committed and do the necessary work.

If a study group is not what you need, perhaps then you may need a tutor to help you. These can be found with some effort. The thing is, this will cost you money while study groups are free and are also based on peer support. You need to decide which would suit you better.

If you need help dealing with the stress, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, you can learn to deal with your stress. No one can do this except you. You can turn to activities that are proven to reduce stress – exercise, meditation, doing activities that you enjoy.

You can also address the stress by managing expectations. There is the expectation you have of yourself and the expectations that others have of you. You can only do your best in whatever you do, and only you can decide what your best is. You will know how difficult a task is, and how hard you can work to accomplish what you want. You know what your limits are. Based on these, set yourself targets or goals to work towards.

Bear in mind also what others expect of you. If you think they are asking too much, ask yourself why they expect so much of you. Is it because they know you can do more than what you think you can do? Is it because they have the faith in your abilities that you don’t see because of your low confidence? Or, are their expectations totally wrong? Once you have figured this one out, you will be able to better manage their expectations.

If, indeed, they see something in you that you don’t, then maybe it is a matter of you believing in yourself and pushing yourself that little bit more. If their expectations are wrong, you have to sit them down and have a difficult conversation with them where you let them know what they can really expect of you. They will have to bring down their expectations of you. Do not expect this to happen with just one conversation, though. It will take some time for them to realise this, and with time, they will be more realistic with their expectations.

Often, we believe that we are not good enough when facing something that we find difficult. This is far from the truth. Life is full of difficulties – they are challenges that are placed there to test us. We have to overcome them. It is through this that we find ourselves. We learn who we are and how we can grow. It is also by overcoming these challenges that we find meaning in life. Do not shy away from things that are difficult. Instead, meet them head-on. There is joy to be found through this. – Thelma

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