A racing heart, sudden shortness of breath, uncontrollable sweating and blurred vision are symptoms people are told not to ignore. What's even more distressing is when you get those symptoms and you haven't even had your 18th birthday. Just the thought of exams, tests or assessments can send some into a frenzy. So why are students and teachers feeling so calm about the final NCEA exams? Cira Olivier reports.
Students and teachers are feeling cool, calm and collected heading into exams as some have already passed and others are practising self-care.
Rotorua Girls' High School Year 13 student Geraldine Atchico said that when it came to exam time, self-care and a work-play balance were important not only for mental health but for mental clarity.
Geraldine is preparing for her last external NCEA test before going to the University of Auckland to study health science next year.
She will join 140,000 students from around the county as exams run from next Friday to December 3.
Geraldine said a lot was going on at this time of the year: internals were due, exams were around the corner and on top of that, it was the end of their high school education for many students.
"Emotions are running high," she said.
But Geraldine has a game plan, which includes group study dates and celebratory brunches with friends.
She has given herself two weeks' preparation for each of the five subjects she will sit exams on to avoid cramming and to help "adapt to the content".
This year, she felt calmer heading into the home stretch than she did last year although she said it was significantly more intense given the jump in the workload and expectations from Level 1 to 2.
"This year has been a lot more chill. This time last year everyone was freaking out."
Pencilled into her study schedule, she and her friends practised self-care, which she said was just as important as studying.
"Have the balance between doing the work but also go out and spend time with your friends.
"We like fitness so when we're feeling stressed out we usually go for a run.
"Just getting out of the environment that you're studying in . . . It also helps you to obtain the information a lot easier."
Rotorua Girls' High principal Sarah Davis said hard work on internals and practice exams throughout the year took the pressure off the final exams.
The stress was not what it used to be 10 years ago because there had been a strong focus on passing levels before exams, she said.
Students need 80 credits to get each level of NCEA but this will reduce to 60 over the next four years as part of the NCEA restructure announced this year.
Davis said each week, student data was analysed to ensure students were on track to achieve their level and the hard work began in term two.
"So the externals are the icing on the cake. They're there to get the endorsements but not to have that pressure."
The school trialled digital exams last year with Level 1 English and science but had decided to move back to paper exams.
There are 234 students from nine schools in the Bay of Plenty entered to sit some of their NCEA exams on digital devices. Thirty-three exams will be done digitally.
Rotorua Lakes High School principal Jon Ward said stress levels were about the same as every other year and teachers had helped students focus on what needed to be done.
He said guidance counsellors, form teachers and deans also helped students manage stress when needed.
Ward said the biggest exam would be Level 1 English with 129 students registered.
Level 1 English is a compulsory NZQA standard, so the exam will yield the biggest turnout for schools across New Zealand, and Rotorua was no different.
Last year, there were 25 breaches relating to NCEA exams in the Bay of Plenty, and 407 across the country.
The majority of these were students failing to follow instructions, such as having a cell phone, notes or other unauthorised material in the exam.
Breaches are generally reported by examination centre managers, markers or schools and each is followed up.
NZQA deputy chief executive assessment Kristine Kilkelly said any potential breaches are handled using a confidential process that follows natural justice.
"By far the majority of students work very hard to prepare for their examinations and comply with all rules," Kilkelly said.
Across the Bay of Plenty, 8771 students are enrolled to sit the NCEA exams. NZQA five study tips to help parents
• Speak to teachers.
• Provide a suitable study environment: a quiet, organised and well-lit space.
• Balance study with free time. Ensure your child is sleeping well, taking regular breaks, and staying in touch with their friends.
• Double-check preparation. Plan for what you might do if something unforeseen happens, eg, make alternative transport plans in case of bus or train delays.
• Know the exam timetable.