[Secondary School] Exam stress in secondary school: 3 study tips to find your motivation

Jamie Lee
Published in
6 min readSep 28, 2021


Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

It is commonly said that PSLE is the biggest hurdle a student in Singapore will face. While that might be true, the path you walk after that is hardly easy. I recall receiving my prelim grades just a few months before the O’levels, with F9 grades for Chemistry and A Math reflected in my report book. It was one of the lowest points of my life, and a culmination of having struggled academically throughout my secondary school life.

Looking back, I wished I knew how to study better and how to put down my distractions. All I knew back then were studying methods that everyone around me were using, such as highlighting notes and cramming for many hours, especially right before the exam. I later realised that those extra hours I put in were not useful if I did not use the time well, and that it is more important to utilise the hours I have well to complete my revision. As such, with my past struggles in mind, I present 3 tips (+ 1 bonus tip) that I wished I had known in secondary school, which have later helped me to make better use of the limited time I had to complete my work.

#Tip 1: Manage your priorities

The transition from primary school to secondary school was not easy as there were double the subjects and additional commitments like CCA. In addition, I found myself procrastinating on my work and choosing instead to play mobile games or browse social media. Although taking a break is important, my inability to play in moderation led to many instances of rushing homework at 10pm, resulting in slipshod work and falling asleep in class the next day (in hindsight, this likely contributed to my poor grades).

Later, I stumbled upon The Eisenhower Matrix, which is a tool to help you prioritise your tasks. In essence, the tool has 4 broad categories which are sorted as follows:

  • Section 1: Urgent and important (do now)
  • Section 2: Not urgent but important (schedule it)
  • Section 3: Urgent but not important (delegate it)
  • Section 4: Not urgent and not important (do if you are free)
What my matrix would have probably looked like in secondary school.

After sorting my tasks into each category, I start working from the first section to the last. By working actively on the first section and the second after that, I ensured that I would not rush through the urgent and important tasks. As for section 3, I tried to delegate most of them when I can, and work on them at the end of the day if I cannot. The last section was reserved as a treat after I was done with section 1 and 2. This matrix was very useful in helping me to organise my priorities, especially because the first section was what I procrastinated on most before learning to sort my tasks.

#Tip 2: Study using the Pomodoro Technique

Another major problem I faced was staying focused on my tasks. After an hour of doing work, I would pick up my phone to “reward” myself for my hard work. However, this reward would often end up lasting up to 30 minutes, which left me with insufficient time to finish all my tasks. I found that The Pomodoro technique helped me a lot in continuing my motivation to study for longer periods of time. This technique works by scheduling a short break of 5 minutes after 25 minutes of working, followed by a longer break of 20 minutes after completing several rounds.

Credits: https://sketchplanations.com/the-pomodoro-technique

This method was especially useful when I had to study subjects that I hated (for example, math) and when I found myself procrastinating on starting work. Now, in university, this technique has helped me to get through reading long research papers and chapters of textbooks.

#Tip 3: Work on goals using The Kaizen method

It is often difficult to take the first step to improving your grades, especially for language subjects where improvement is seen gradually (and sometimes not at all). I personally struggled with my mother tongue and found it difficult to memorise phrases and words in secondary school. While I only discovered The Kaizen method in university, I have since shared this method with many people who found it useful in situations where they lack motivation.

The Kaizen method focuses on continuous improvement by taking small steps towards a goal. For example, to improve at English, try writing down the meaning of one word you do not know in a notebook every day. At the end of the year, you would have learnt 365 words that you previously did not know. This method can also be applied to other aspects of your life. When I encountered a book that I did not want to read (but had to), I read one page a day until I completed it. This method of improvement does not require much motivation to begin and encourages you to make steady progress.

#Bonus tip: Record your non-academic experiences

In secondary 4, I considered applying for EAE and DSA into Polytechnics and Junior Colleges, but gave up before even applying as I found the process too intimidating. Not only was I going to attend my first formal interview, I was also going in without knowing how to answer the application questions.

How was I supposed to remember what I learnt in a leadership camp I attended in secondary 3? Or recall every detail of the Elementz Science competition I participated in in secondary 2? Feeling disheartened, I decided against applying and pushed myself to try getting better grades. Although it worked out for me in the end, it was a stressful and difficult journey which could have been alleviated if Skilio had existed back then.

How could having a Skilio portfolio have helped me? Firstly, by writing down my non-academic experiences on the platform, I would have been able to record and retrieve my reflections done in the various camps, competitions, activities and events that I participated in before I forget about them.

Secondly, many applications require you to talk about what you have learnt from said experiences. The Skilio portfolio records your soft skill growth in every reflection you submit, which you can use in your applications to demonstrate your growth in aspects such as leadership, teamwork and adaptability.

Lastly, Skilio is also able to generate personalisation reports for your future applications, such as DSA, EAE, aptitude tests and interviews. These personalisation reports include tips on how to ace your application and even extracts portions of your reflections that you can use in your application responses. Signing up for a Skilio portfolio is free, so I really encourage you to sign up here!


Despite its struggles, my secondary school journey was also filled with fun times spent with my friends. If I had learnt to manage my studies back then, I could have maintained a healthy balance between studies and play. Nonetheless, it is my hope that my tips will serve you as well as they did for me. With the approaching O’levels in mind, I wish you all the best for the O’levels and your future endeavours!