Top Tips for Triumphing over Testing Tribulations

With the arrival of Beijing spring, our Upper Secondary students are feeling the heat, both climatically and academically. We went to one of our star Year 12 students Cecilia Cao to learn what she does to survive the rigors of the IB Diploma Programme testing season.

My name is Cecilia Yixuan Cao, and I am a Year 12 student currently studying the International Baccalaureate program in Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Though I devote a substantial proportion of my time to schoolwork and assignments, I always attempt to seize, or create opportunities  for, developing my hobbies and interests, such as reading, studying science and history, and lastly, crafting sequential art. When painting or drawing, I always play a heavy-metal album; I am particularly fond of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Tool. I am also a zealous enthusiast of action and sci-fi films, though I worship the works created by the fastidious mind of Stanley Kubrick.

What subjects or exams do you find most challenging?

IB has successfully showed me just how arrogant and cocky I was in IGCSE. In the final year of the program, I was performing with honours in subjects that I loved, especially literature and art. When I officially became an IB student, the subjects that I believed were the easiest to qualify for actually ended up being the most demanding.

Literature has been more than torturous, with the fear of failure always looming over my mind. Art, in particular, is the most challenging; I consider it as the least primitive skill I posses, hence there is always a great desire to surpass my previous achievements in hopes of accomplishing more. This greed forces me to endure great pains and endless toil in planning and executing the next project, and I have adopted a nocturnal lifestyle in order to support this maddening ambition.

Economics has also proven to be a bit of a surprise – I entered the course believing that it would be simple (as it only required repetitive memorization). However, I have been kicked in the teeth multiple times, whether by a ridiculous mistake, or perplexing questions.

What do you find most stressful or difficult about the test-taking process?

I find that the most stressful component of test taking would be… the entire procedure! Anxiety never leaves my mind from the beginning of the study sessions until taking the actual exam.

When studying, I have to incessantly revisit previous sections of the textbook, as there is always the possibility of forgetting a key concept or word, ones that examiners search for when scrutinizing your paper. With experience, I have come to realize that many variables can go wrong during an exam, whether it’s incredibly discombobulating essay questions or a simple hit-or-miss with your answers, incapable of fulfilling all the necessary criteria.

What resources are available to help you prepare for the exams?

While preparing for examinations, I always attempt to allocate enough time for every subject; it is important to keep in mind that time is a crucial resource, one that should not be considered lightly nor trifled with.

For study material, I always look to my textbooks; oftentimes, I find that they are more comprehensive and useful than any online guide. Though that may be a bold and obstinate statement, I highly recommend reading and analyzing the contents of any textbook for an in-depth understanding of the subject.

Though I prefer to self-study, I do come across areas that are very perplexing; in these cases, I seek out my teachers, who are always glad to assist me during my time of need. In order to improve the efficiency of my studying habits, I talk to classmates who are better than me at certain subjects in order to glean more tips and tricks.

What are some of the strategies you use to cope with exam pressures. Do you have any special or unique rituals you use to help relieve stress?

As I am fond of computer games, I oftentimes find a short mission to complete in order to quell my anxiety. The games that I choose do not require rigorous brain activity, so that relaxation is optimized and stress levels are effectively depleted.

If I find myself drowning in waves of guilt due to gaming during exam week, then I choose instead to draw and listen to Iron Maiden. Not only does this create opportunities for entertaining oneself, it also increases productivity, as I can hone and further develop my skills and abilities. When choosing music, I tend to avoid peaceful songs, as they cause my mind to stray and incessantly brood over test anxiety.

As an alternative, I may revisit my favourite television shows or films, though the greatest method to relieve stress is taking a brief nap. When my strength has been completely depleted, I often find that the greatest form of recuperation is taking a break for fifteen to twenty minutes. Other times, I may seek out my parents or friends to engage in leisurely conversation.

How do you plan to celebrate the end of the exam season?

After surviving exam season, I repeat a “ritual” where I completely disregard any productive tasks or assignments, lock myself in my room, and engage in gaming sessions lasting more than five hours. I have found that this is a very cathartic method, as all the frustration, stress, and difficulties encountered during my academic career would be released when I manage to blow something up in Borderlands. It is exhilarating to see thousands of pixels conjuring a massive explosion right before my eyes.

However, as I am an IB student, I fear that this hedonistic tradition will have to be abandoned. Over the summer, I have to complete numerous assignments, including internal assessments, written tasks, and, lastly, an extended essay, which is the greatest burden amongst perpetual lists of errands. Hence, I would feel obliged to start completing my assignments immediately.

What advice do you have for students getting ready to entre the IB diploma programme at YCIS Beijing?

The single most important advice for future IB students would be heeding the significance of time management. Throughout year 12, I have, unfortunately, fell victim to procrastination and inefficiencies in time management. This is not only incredibly detrimental to my studies, but also degrades my work ethic in general. The best example of the repercussions of procrastination would be my first art assignment – I was given a month to complete a painting, but due to various reasons, I was left with four days until the deadline. During that week, I received less than three hours of sleep a day. I would advise anyone to resist giving into indolence, as it has only brought me unimaginable levels of stress and fatigue.

Aside from time management, it is also important to avoid distractions. I have come to realize that I have the attention span of a goldfish; when conducting research, I find myself opening attractive advertisements, or watching Youtube videos and sources of Internet entertainment.

Lastly, the final piece of advice (though many of my friends would call me hypocritical), would be recovering from discouragement. IB is significantly more difficult than IGCSE, and I have suffered many embarrassing failures, too many for two semesters. Upon receiving an atrocious grade for a subject, it would ruin the rest of my evening. Not only is this detrimental to my health, it also degrades my efficiency in general. Note that failure is inevitable within IB, and, according to my partner in crime, you need to “suck it up” and move on.

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