Staying Strong And Focused During Matric Studies

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This time of preparing for and writing Matric exams is much like facing a high-stakes endurance challenge.  You want to be mentally and physically top of your game so that you can perform at your best, but the circumstances are full of tension and stress.   A certain amount of stress can be useful to keep us focused, but too much can lead to crippling exam anxiety.

It helps to have a plan for tackling your Matric studies that include factoring in your physical and mental health.  Developing good study habits helps you to get through your workload more efficiently while maintaining your resilience and well-being.

If you’re not sure how to get organised for your upcoming studies and final exams, it’s important to get advice from experts rather than trying to muddle through on your own.  SACAP (South African College of Applied Psychology) will be hosting its annual SACAP Matric Student Study Hack webinar on Saturday, 12 August 2022 from 10:00.  If you don’t want to sit at home and watch alone, join a SACAP Study Hack Watch Party at a SACAP Campus in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria or Durban.

Setting goals and developing a study schedule

Ziyanda Khumalo, a Student Support and Development Advisor at SACAP’s Johannesburg Campus, will share her expertise on how to identify and minimise distractions that impair focus or invite procrastination.  She emphasises the importance of setting goals, developing a study schedule, and managing your time.  “While students do have unique study preferences, there are certain focus methods that are effective as a foundation in a variety of academic areas.  Productive focus techniques help students get organised and identify their priorities. 

Students need to reflect on their study environment and identify their distractions
  • Is it an uncomfortable chair that makes them fidget and get up? 
  • Is it the constant pinging of their device? 
  • Are there younger siblings demanding attention? 
  • You need to first set yourself up for success in your environment, and then work towards your goals. 
  • You need to include regular and consistent breaks, and then manage your time precisely so that you don’t get caught up in other activities around the house. 
  • Tracking your progress helps to ensure focus and avoids the stress that comes with falling behind on your studies.”

According to Educational and Research Psychologist, Dr Diana De Sousa, exam anxiety is a common experience for Matric students.  She says, “It helps to understand the science behind this.  Exam anxiety is caused by the body’s natural stress response triggered by the amygdala in the brain. This response perceives exams as a threat to a student’s self-esteem, future goals, or academic standing, causing increased levels of cortisol in the body.”

You can recognise exam anxiety if you are troubled by negative thought patterns, self-doubt, and fear of failure.  Dr. De Sousa says, “This mental noise can impair concentration, memory recall, and decision-making during study time and while writing your exams. However, coping strategies, relaxation techniques, and positive reinforcement can help manage and mitigate the effects of exam anxiety.”  At the SACAP Matric Student Study Hack webinar, Dr. De Sousa will be highlighting practical mindfulness techniques to handle stress and anxiety effectively.

One of the best to manage mental stress is by getting the body moving. 

Unfortunately, during long bouts of studying, getting up and out into the fresh air for some exercise too often falls by the wayside.  It’s important to include time for being physically active in your daily study schedule.  “Exercise results in the release of mood-enhancing endorphins which combat stress, anxiety, and depression. 

While you might not be able to take the time out for a long cycle or play a soccer game during your studies, you will find that you can take a break and simply go for a brisk walk in your neighbourhood.  This refreshes the brain and releases a good amount of dopamine which will shift you into a more positive mindset.  In addition, regular stretching helps a great deal during study time to make you more physically comfortable and resilient.”

Poor diet and lack of sleep amplify stress and anxiety

Too often when we have big demands on our time and attention, we forget about how important it is to eat and sleep well.  Poor diet and lack of sleep amplify stress and anxiety, making it harder for us to perform well.  “SACAP panelist Nelile Nxumalo, a Registered Dietician will discuss what your body needs to maintain high energy levels and what foods can help to improve your concentration. 

“During study and exam periods, the brain and nervous system work overtime and need to be fuelled by healthy foods to function optimally.  Eating well-balanced meals feeds the brain with the right nutrients and this helps to improve memory and alertness.”  Nelile will be presenting simple meal and snack hacks to help you use nutrition to boost your exam performance.

It’s normal to experience exam stress, and it’s crucial to be kind to yourself during this challenging period.  Don’t skip out on the short breaks that you need to rest and recharge.  Take a flexible approach to your study schedule and make adjustments if necessary. 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it is important to reach out for support from teachers, family, or friends. Keep your perspective clear and remember that the results of one exam don’t define your worth or potential.

Join the conversation, SACAP’s Matric Student Hack webinar on Saturday, 12 August 2023 from 10h00 to 11h30.  Registration is free and you can RSVP on Zoom here.