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As Arab Students Take Final Exams, Psychologists Offer Tips on Reducing Stress

As Arab high school students take final exams which will decide their future and whether they will go to university, Al-Fanar Media has been asking psychologists for their stress-reducing tips.

Tahani Taleb, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Counselling at Al-Mustansiriya University, in Baghdad, said stress and anxiety were prevalent for most students during exams. The stereotypical image of high school exit exams as the doorway to personal and professional success only increases the anxiety among final-grade students, she added.

“Stress is a natural, positive feeling when it motivates a person to work harder and focus more effectively on attaining their goals,” Taleb said. “This feeling becomes negative when it distracts the person, making him or her feel helpless and afraid.”

She advises students to practice daily exercises to relieve the tension, like breathing exercises, which can reduce internal pressures, get rid of negative thoughts, and calm the body. She said this exercise also gave balance to the nervous system, reducing the incidence of various neurological disorders.

Don’t Add to the Pressure

“Stress is a natural, positive feeling when it motivates a person to work harder and focus more effectively on attaining their goals. This feeling becomes negative when it distracts the person, making him or her feel helpless and afraid.”

Tahani Taleb An assistant professor of psychological counselling at Al-Mustansiriya University, in Iraq

This is the exam season in other regions, too. In the United Kingdom, the website of the National Health Service advises parents to avoid adding to the pressure on their children during exam times by providing support, avoiding criticism, giving  students reassurance, and letting them know failing is not the end of the world. It also recommends thinking about simple rewards for studying and getting through each exam.

The health service says signs of anxiety experienced by students during exams include headaches, stomach pains, lack of sleep, irritability, feeling hopeless about the future, negativity, low mood, nihilism towards activities, and losing interest in food or eating more than normal.

Taleb agrees that family pressures on students could cause negative thoughts about exams, “that they are a threat to them.” Families should explain to their children that while they want them to attain professional and personal success, people have many qualities that are not measured by exams, she said.

Another external factor that increases tension for Arab students is the continuous change to the examination and study system, Taleb said. “This creates a natural feeling of anxiety and fear.”

In recent years, several Arab countries have introduced legislation to change their high school assessment and university admission systems, in ways like including more than one year’s grades in the assessment and examination process.

Ways to Reduce Stress

Three ways for students to reduce stress and increase concentration include paying attention to their diet, having a place where they can study undisturbed, and practicing answering exam questions, starting with easy ones.

Radwan Aburukba A professor of educational psychology at Al-Aqsa University, in Gaza

Radwan Aburukba, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Al-Aqsa, in Gaza, suggested three ways to reduce stress and increase concentration.

The first factor involves regular exercise, including relaxation exercises through deep breathing, and a change in  dietary habits. It’s important to reduce the intake of sugars and not have too much breakfast before an exam, Aburukba says. He suggests a light meal, as this increases the blood circulation to the brain and enhances  concentration.

The second factor is the home environment. Students need a private room to study in, where other family members will not disturb them, he said. But students should have time to be with family members when they want to.

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The third factor is practicing how to answer exam questions. Students should start with the easy questions and leave those that require most effort to the end, Aburukba said.

He explained that when students start with the easy questions, they will feel psychologically comfortable, which should ease their stress. “This will help them answer the difficult questions later.”

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