Positively Reappraising Exam Stress

November 30, 2020

Louis Tay

With finals week looming, many students are experiencing exam stress. 

Back in Singapore, I remember taking many high-stakes exams as a student. Despite all the preparation, exams were a stressful affair. What if I didn’t do well despite all my hard work? What if I somehow my mind goes blank in the examination? What if I fall sick on the day of the exam? 

Despite the ongoing academic stressors, in a moment of defiance, I told myself that exams were going to be a fun challenge I would overcome. From then on out, I treated exams not as a threat but as a positive challenge – a way that I can push myself and grow. I vowed that exams would not have the power to affect me negatively. 

Looking back now as a psychologist, it was fascinating that I was enacting a positive reappraisal of a stressful situation. I adopted a “stress-as-challenge” mindset as compared to a “stress-as-threat” mindset.

Research using an experimental design shows that the “stress-as-challenge” mindset – as opposed to the “stress-as-threat” mindset – promotes positive emotions, enhances attention toward positive stimuli, and greater creativity. Moreover, this mindset leads to positive physiological changes in the body during stressful encounters.

Can you positively reappraise your exam stress? Here could be some ways to rethink exams: 

  • Exams create a shared goal with others to learn and overcome together.
  • Exams are a way to showcase your learning.
  • Exams push you to reach your peak performance.

Stress is real -- and it can even be debilitating. It is essential to seek help when you need it. At the same time, it is helpful to recognize that our mindsets can play a significant role in overcoming stress.

Be well, 


Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science.  Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!

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