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Overcome Exam Anxiety: Achieving Academic Excellence in Singapore

Are you always performing poorly in your examinations no matter how hard you study? You may have missed certain questions, had insufficient time to complete the paper, couldn't concentrate during the exam or experienced an anxiety breakdown.

Student sits alone in an empty library to complete work after school in Singapore

One minute you know all the content and almost feel confident and the next, just as the paper is set in front of you and you read the first question, your mind seems to go blank. Don't worry if you face any of the above problems. You are not alone!

This is a common phenomenon. Such intense anxiety occurring before examinations is appropriately deemed "Exam/ Text Anxiety".

Here is an academic definition:

Test anxiety refers to the subjective experience of intense physiological, cognitive, and/or behavioural symptoms of anxiety before or during test-taking situations that interferes with test performance. - Sawka-Miller (2011)

While this is nothing to worry about, we all want positive change. This is why, if you want to break these negative behaviour loops and form better habits that will enable you to achieve your personal best score, Rule #7 in MindWork's 8 Rules for Academic Success series might contain just the tips you need to break free of exam anxiety and get the best marks you need to follow through on your academic dreams.

Before you read on, if you haven't already, check out the life-changing advice from Rule #1, Rule #2, Rule #3, Rule #4, Rule #5 and Rule #6 given personally from Tutor Young!

If you enjoy this article, subscribe to MindWorks Blog to receive email notifications when a new educational post is published.

Student studies economics principles in a cafe in Singapore

It is not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer - Albert Einstein

There are some common mistakes we make when we internalise the stress and anticipation of an upcoming exam/ test. These include:

1. Cram in information just before the exam

Comic strip making fun of exams

Sometimes, due to poor time management, students are forced to study and revise many topics in little time.

How do students usually solve this problem?

If we don't have enough time to eat, we swallow instead. We do this by reading all the information just before our examinations. More often than not, we will neither understand, nor absorb the knowledge thus consumed.

The next day, we may look more knowledgeable but are likely to be thoroughly confused. This is because there will be tons of unrelated information in our mind with no ideas on how to apply it in solving or answering questions.

Worse still, we may be uncertain about the accuracy of the information

Student completing practice SAT test in Singapore

One common way in which this uncertainty becomes obvious is during Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs). When doing these, our brain may scan the information it has quickly devoured the previous night, but all the choices might seem right because the teacher has designed them to confuse students who do not understand the concept!

Simply cramming lots of new information right before the exam is therefore one clear path to performing worse.

2. Burning the midnight oil the night before

Student studying chemistry late at night in Singapore

Try this if you intend to exhaust your brain so much that it goes on a strike the next day during the exam! This is the ultimate way to sabotage your brain's optimal performance.

When your brain is tired due to lack of sleep, it will be lazy and fatigued when solving questions. When it encounters new problems, it will shut down making it difficult to think out of the box or think from different angles. You will not be able to tackle critical thinking questions, which differentiates ‘A’ students from the rest.

Below is a video explaining the correlation between poor sleep and brain performance:

3. Not revising at all the day before an exam

If you don't take the time to study the day before the exam, be prepared to bid adios to your 'A'.

This is another way to guarantee sub-par performance. Exams are not only a test of how well you know the concepts but also how quickly and efficiently can you use them to solve complex problems.

The more you know, the faster you will be able to complete the paper. There are thinking questions that require thinking on your feet, but there's are also regurgitation questions that require you to list your thought process clearly step by step.

You will be in 'the flow state' and will be are able to answer questions more accurately and efficiently if you re-familiarize yourself with the content the day before. This is because we are able to keep the information 'fresh' in our heads for up to 24 hours only before and it starts to decline afterwards. Hence, it is inadvisable to solely rely on your revision days or weeks before the actual paper.

After going through the 'Must Avoid' list, here are some tips to maximise your scores during the exam by minimising test anxiety:

1. Allocate time wisely

You should plan your time according to the marks allocated for each section. If the full marks are 100 and you have 100 minutes, you should ideally spend a maximum of 10 minutes for every 10 marks worth of questions. Don't overspend time unless you have a good reason to do so.

2. Do the questions you know first

An examination is a test of what you know, so you should do what you know first. Don't spend too much time on unfamiliar questions and end up with insufficient time to finish the questions you know and can score in.

3. Plan time for review

No matter how well you think you performed during the first round of answering, a review will always be useful in potentially recovering marks from careless mistakes and examining if you have accidentally missed out on any part of your answer.

Student reading her history notes in Singapore

4. When in doubt, change your answer

This may sound contrary to the usual advice, but based on a survey of 33 different studies conducted over 70 years, it was found that on average, people who change their answers in an MCQ test did better than those who did not. That's right. You are more likely to be changing that answer from wrong to right instead of right to wrong!

Why then do authors of test preparation guides still say that you should stick with your first answer? A study argues that it is partially because we remember more clearly the times

when we changed from right to wrong so we will anticipate the regret that will come and convince brainwash ourselves that our gut feeling is more likely to be right when it is not.

You will be ready for excellence by avoiding mistakes and deploying these sound strategies for your upcoming papers.

However, if you need more help such as personalised and in-depth lessons, consider getting a private tutor. A one-on-one home tutor can be difficult to find in Singapore since the best ones face high demand, which is why MindWorks is here to help you. Fill out a simple form to have MindWorks' team of coordinators begin the search for your perfect mentor!

This might be just the help you need to set you apart from all other students in your class.

Happy Learning!

About Tutor Young

Yang Lin, founder of MindWorks tuition agency Singapore

Tutor Young is the founder of MindWorks Tuition and a humanistic educator with over six years of full-time tutoring experience in math and science subjects for secondary school, IP, IGCSE, and JC students. A graduate of Singapore Management University, he has extensive knowledge about the Singapore education system, students’ tutoring needs, and tutoring best practices. Under his guidance and expertise, MindWorks has become the most reliable and trustworthy tuition agency in Singapore, which consistently provides high-quality service by finding the perfect tutors for all students. As a futuristic thinker and an empathetic leader, Tutor Young specialises in peoples’ development to provide meaningful services to both the students and his team at MindWorks.

Begin learning with him now by subscribing to his YouTube Channel!


Merry J.W., Elenchin M.K., Surma R.N. (2021) Should students change their answers on multiple-choice questions? Advances in Physiology Education 45:1, 182-190

Sawka-Miller K.D. (2011) Test Anxiety. In: Goldstein S., Naglieri J.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

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