I volunteer as a Maphunziro265 ambassador. Maphunziro265 (M265) is a Malawian non-profit organization that mentors secondary school students in different parts of the country. You can find out more about them here. I have been a part of M265 since January 2020, right before Covid hit and schools shut down. Due to a number of factors, I had not been able to participate in a mentorship and recently an opportunity opened up and I jumped at it. On Easter Saturday, April 16, 2022, I had the opportunity to lead a mentorship session at Kabwabwa Secondary school in Area 25, Lilongwe. Out topic of discussion was Managing Stress When Preparing for MSCE Final Exams. In Malawi, the school system has two curricula, the Malawi Examinations Board (MANEB) and the Cambridge systems. A majority of the schools follows the MANEB system and the Cambridge system is in mostly elite private schools. Kabwabwa Secondary School is a government funded school and follows the MANEB curriculum, which culminates, into the Malawi School Leaving Certificate Examinations (MSCE) in the 12th grade, known locally as Form 4. For those students in the MANEB curriculum, the MSCE is everything, it determines if you can go to university or not. Most of the students want to go to the government funded universities because tuition is more reasonable compared to private universities. As a result, passing this exam is foremost on most students’ minds and can be a significant source of stress.
We had eight students in this session and during the session; I focused on identifying causes of stress and how to manage them. The students’ age range was mid to late teens and the schools is a day secondary school without boarding facilities. I determined these two factors to be potential sources of stress in that the relaxation options these students had were more likely to be endless compared to boarders who are usually in a restricted environment with minimal access to the outside world and living at home, there were more likely to have domestic chores to handle, among other things.
At the beginning of the exercise, I asked the students to list down two sets of things
- I asked the students to write down three things they do to relax/stress coping mechanism
- I asked the students to write down three things that distract them
I asked the students to write down these things because I wanted them to understand how relaxation techniques can also lead to stress if not properly planned or managed specifically for them at a time when they only have 3 months before their exams.
In the session, I asked them to define what stress is and then explain to the group their stress coping mechanisms. Their mechanisms ranged from taking naps, listening to music, dancing, talking to friends, playing on the phone, going for walks, watching television shows, movies, and wrestling. I then asked them to talk about the things that distract them and as it turns out, it was these same activities. They would end up spending a longer time than planned napping, would return from a walk at 6 pm, continuously play on the phone or watch television for hours instead of studying.
- Plan your day. This helps one to know the activities they need to carry out and make sure they are done. This leads to less stress as you are more likely not to forget something and also prioritize your study time
- Know your weak subjects and work on them. I asked the students what subjects they struggled with and they mentioned English, Geography, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. When I asked what measures hey are taking to improve these areas, I did not get solid responses. I offered techniques as if you are struggling with English, pick up the newspaper instead of watching TV. Practice Math, if you keep on getting wrong answers ask the class Math whiz or teacher for help. That Math question you are giving up on can end up coming on the exam!
- Know your personality and habits then schedule your activities accordingly. For young people, it always seems easier to go with the crowd, but this can be a source of stress as you might be doing things at the wrong time. I gave a personal example of my sleeping habits. The habit of waking up in the middle of the night to study is so common and expected but it is not for all of us. In secondary school, I would force myself to wake up in the middle of the night to study as my friends would. I struggled with this and usually failed to wake up. I would stress when I got up to switch off the alarm and see my roommates studying. It was only later when I realized that I do best with uninterrupted sleep. I would rather sleep late or wake up early to study than wake up in the middle of the night. I need my 7-9 uninterrupted hours of sleep!
- Do not get discouraged with the mock exams. Mock exams are written as a way of testing students’ preparedness for the MSCE. Stories abound of students who did poorly on the mock exams but did very well on the MSCE and vice versa. The goals is to do your best and keep pushing.
- Believe in yourself and be confident, this helps to reduce stress, as one believes in their capabilities, in this case passing the exams.
- Have positive attitude, this always goes a long way