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The Hidden Benefits of Exams and Stress

As the last weeks of the secondary school year approach I wanted to reach out to the many Trinity peer leaders, both in secondary and high school about the hidden challenges and benefits of stress and exams.

For me the end of the school year always entailed stress but not because of exams but because I was usually cramming at the last minute, trying to make up for my hit and miss self discipline around managing and prioritizing my study for individual courses.

To compound my problem I was told that studying was essential for my future success, as were high marks. This shifted the focus away from the particulars of my personal growth and on to my immediate need to somehow do the best I could for future rewards.

All this obscures the deeper challenges involved in our self-development at this crucial stage of our lives. In our adolescence, for instance, we lay down the basic framework for how we handle the ups and downs of life. And we should be as self-aware of this process as we can.

As human beings we are from our earliest years constantly in the process of stabilizing ourselves as we grow socially/emotionally through various experiences. In fact the process of striving for stability and achieving it in our mindsets and emotions, then having a destabilizing experience and struggling to reintegrate that experience into a new stability is essential to our capacity to grow and learn.

Anything that takes the focus away from this process will impair our innate resilience. The result of this could be that certain areas of our life can remain destabilized for long periods of our lives. Or in plain talk, we don’t get over certain losses or failures, and develop aversions for example to certain issues or avoid activities that threaten to move us out of our comfort zone.

More importantly, this process can be the major contributor to negative self-talk developed in our childhood and adolescence. And exams in particular, which push us into an intense singular external focus, can impede the development of our self-awareness and delay the development of an inner literacy. This in turn leaves us to measure ourselves in black and white terms such as success or failure, win or lose etc. and nothing more.

Ultimately, in the larger context and meaning of our life, the outcome of exams are unimportant. Our real challenge is to make the preparing for exams and exams themselves an entirely conscious, multifaceted experience in which we grow as a person as well as developing the discipline to acquire certain knowledge and skills.

Take back your education from the education system and become a lifelong learner.

Experiencing a pressing demand from an external source- substitute for exams a boss someday for example- is something that will happen all through life in our relationships, our workplaces, and pursuit of a vocation. Best to use the challenge of exams now to be aware of the deeper personal growth processes in your life, and lay down stepping stones for your future in the never ending process of learning, unlearning, and relearning to meet the ups and downs in all facets of our lives.

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