Honey, fish-heads: Crazy things candidates do in the name of exams

On October 21, 2014, Primary Six candidates will start final exams, while finals for Senior three and Advanced level will start on October 28 and end on November 6.
Students relax in the school compound. With a few days to the final exams, every minute counts.  (Solomon Asaba)
Students relax in the school compound. With a few days to the final exams, every minute counts. (Solomon Asaba)

On October 21, 2014, Primary Six candidates will start final exams, while finals for Senior three and Advanced level will start on October 28 and end on November 6.

This period, relatively short for most of us, will seem like a lifetime for the candidates, as the cocktail of exhilaration, insomnia and panic that comes with examination time takes its toll on them. Each candidate deals with the challenge of the finals differently, and no doubt some will resort to desperate measures as an attempt to ensure a positive outcome when results are finally announced.

Everyone who has been through a classroom will have witnessed an increase in witchcraft allegations, enhanced spiritual fervor among former ‘pagans’, refined cheating tactics and trans-night revision among others as candidates prepare for their biggest battle in their academic career.

Sadly, this fear of exams often goes so far as to cause ‘exam fever’ in individuals, making it even harder for them to perform as well as they could have. But how do these students deal with their fears?

Students speak out on exam fever and superstitions

For Fanny Uwanziga, a Senior Six student at Kiziguro Secondary School in Eastern province, having on and off chills days before sitting her exams is familiar.

“Two days before the first papers of Senior Three finals, I got a fever that made me wish I could stay home; and I would have, if the exams had not been so crucial,” Uwanziga explains

According to her, this happens on several occasions prior to any exams. The good news is that Uwanziga regains her right state of mind without medication after her first papers.

“By day three of exams, the shivering and cold chills have stopped,” she says.


Uwanziga has a mild case of a condition called ‘Exam Fever’ in common speak. In some cases it can be a lot more acute, often disrupting the memory, readiness and concentration of students.

One of its victims is Jackie Mutoni, who is in her Senior Six vacation. Umutoni had a phobia for History, and days prior to the final exams, she experienced fever-like symptoms.

“I was scared to enter the examination room, I felt a bit sick for four days before we could start our exams,” Mutoni explains, adding that: “The fever disappeared after the History paper, and I was normal throughout the entire period.”

Desperate times, desperate measures

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Examination phobia does not only stop at the fevers, but usually tends to drive students into several innovations to pass highly. Extreme measures and superstitions tend to come to life during examinations and here as elsewhere, whoever keeps company with the wolves soon learns to howl.

And the situation was not any different for Orchide Irakoze, a student of College Ami des Enfants. Before joining Senior One, Irakoze had no special formula for dealing with exams, until a friend of his shared her secret for passing with flying colours.

“She told me to wake up at midnight and place my feet in a basin of cold water. I did not sleep but somehow I concentrated on the coldness of the water,” Irakoze explains. The tactic apparently worked.

“It indeed worked,” affirms Irakoze excitedly, “because I read up to morning and after the paper I had high grades.”

Moses Habimana, a student at the same school also admits falling victim of exam fever before but insists that ever since he started using honey, he gained immunity from this fever.

“I was told honey boosts brain function prior to examination or interviews and therefore, I take it every time I am going for an exam.”

“My mum however used to tell me that the head of the fish also boosts memory and I used to eat it before I got to know of the honey,” Habimana says.

Although a number of students denied it, one student revealed that witchcraft is a common practice for some of the youngsters. “They are usually given special charms like small sticks to carry along in their pockets,” he said adding that: “Some students who don’t believe in such spend more time praying during that period.”

Parents, teachers and counsellors

For Ronald Wandira a teacher at Kigali Christian School, it’s common for students to fall sick during examinations. The seasoned educator attributes the biggest cause of the sickness to fear and lack of readiness for the exams on the part of the students.

He also cast doubt on the efficacy of the superstitions that are common during  examination period. For example, commenting on the practice of eating fish-heads and honey,  Wandira said, “I highly doubt that students who tend to eat new foodstuffs when sitting national examinations have boosted brain function.”

“Instead the unfamiliar food tends to cause discomfort and most of these students find themselves victims of stomach upsets within the examination rooms,” he cautions.

Conversely Paul Iyandemye a parent of three says that: “I provide special treatment to my children when they reach candidate classes. I am also willing to provide them anything they want to eat within that period.”

Asked about exam fever and superstitions, Iyandemye explains that: “Showering very cold water early in the morning before doing an exam makes you an excellent performer.”

Without clearly drawing the line, this parent thinks that exam fevers are caused by fear in students.

Health experts talk about exam fever, superstitions

Dr Osée Sebatunzi, the Director of Kibagabaga hospital also agrees with this school of thought for students that are about to sit their exams.

“Some students fall sick because of fear that arises from their lack of adequate preparation. Their bodies respond to the fear this way. This is common for students who pay less attention while in class.”

“The end result will be a decrease in performance,” Sebatunzi warns

A research published on June 13, 2007 on examination fever shows that 40% of exam fever sufferers drop points in their final performance.

Dr Charles Mudenge a psychiatrist and head of the Mental department at University teaching hospital (CHUK) attributes exam fevers to anxiety while warning that: “The situation looks minor but it can aggravate into serious medical complications.”

Mudenge states that: “Because of lack of preparedness, students tend to seek refuge with superstitions that actually don’t work.”

 “There is no scientific evidence that shows that soaking the feet in water improves academic performance. In fact when the brain is overworked, it will be less efficient,” he stresses

Although these experiences are unavoidable, Mudenge advises students to have adequate rest prior to exams since an over worked brain cannot yield good results.

Joyce Kirabo, a counsellor in Kigali, says that: “Witchcraft is old fashioned and students should not engage in such practices because they won’t change their grades. A little prayer won’t do any harm for a student who is already prepared.”

“Students should understand that what they have been taught in class is not any different from the questions on the paper. They should therefore be confident that it is possible for them to excel with their own efforts,” adds Kirabo.

“Students should be taken through adequate counselling, career guidance and mentorship before sitting exams. This will help improve their preparedness,” Dr Sebatunzi advises.

Teachers advise on exam fever

Florence Kamuhoro

The only way a student can avert examination fever is by preparing well for the exams. This means you must read early and consult your teachers in advance. There is no need to develop examination fever since the final exams are not any different from the usual ones.

Gnislain Van Caeneghem

As long as you are a student in whatever class you will always have examination fever when that time comes. But what is important is how to handle it. Free your mind by relaxing a bit and  have enough rest. Also eat well and plan well.

Justice Mazima

Examination pressure affects everyone but students should find a way of handling it. The biggest cause of this fear and tension is poor preparation by the student. But students can use the remaining few days to reduce on that pressure.

Maria Uwimpuwe

Students should ensure that they revise from a very quiet environment to avoid inconveniences from fellow students. You should use the  most appropriate hours for your revision. Remain calm and you will make it.

Telesphore Hakorimana

Examination pressure in most cases is as a result of lack of early preparation.Some students don’t write notes only to discover that they don’t have what to read at the eleventh hour. Such students are the most stressed during examination periods.

Moses Habimana, a student

I experienced that kind of pressure two years ago while in senior three but discussion groups helped me overcome it. If a group is serious, they can cover a lot of material in just one week. This will boost their confidence and take away the pressure from them.

Tips on how to pass exams

1. No limiting belief please

-Remove the limiting belief that you can’t pass.

-If you believe you can pass or you l I have seen students under the impression that examiner is their enemy. Please don’t think so. Pass percentage might be low, but students do pass their exams. So, don’t think that you will be in a failure category ever.

2.Understand the structure of paper

-First of all, understand the structure of paper – is there any marks allocation for a particular topic?

-Secondly, if there is marks allocation, is examiner following it? The best thing to do is to review the past five papers.

-What is the key topic i.e. examiner’s favourite? Study that topic and prepare for it, even if you don’t like it!

3. Taking notes

-Prepare for exams by way of ‘notes’ which you can recall quickly at the time of taking exam. This will help in two manner. First, when you write, you are in better picture of giving your mind instruction through written letters. Secondly, you can revise from your notes instead of opening the book when exam day is near. Here is my strategy for taking notes:

-Take a paper and turn it in landscape format. Put three columns in landscape form. Once done, take synopsis of a chapter in smaller fonts and the language which you can easily understand.

-Write bullet points, important concepts and key ideas which you need to remember.

-These notes should be used at the time when paper is on head and you need to revise whole subject in two to three hours.

4. Remembering / memorizing key ideas and formulae

-One of the key ideas to memorize ideas e.g. formulae, is to write them in small charts and hang it in front of your bed.

-See those formulae daily before going to bed and rising up.

-Use different colours and markers.

Believe me, in my statistics paper, I was recalling the formulae in the exact colours which I wrote on charts.

5. Exam practice

-Practice mock exam — be your own examiner.

-Take any past paper and solve it as a mock exam. Solve past paper in the time allocated in exam. Think you are in exam hall and solve the paper accordingly.

-Check your paper and give yourself marks. See how are you performing in mock exam and be sincere to yourself.

6. Time your paper

-Here is technique to time your paper: Take total marks and total time. Subtract 10 minutes from the total minutes. Divide the remainder with the marks and you get time per marks

-example: If there are 100 marks for a paper and you have 180 minutes. Subtract 10 minutes. This means you have 170 minutes altogether or 1.7 minutes per mark. Make sure that you don’t spend more that 1.7 minutes per mark e.g. if a question is of 10 marks, maximum time you should spend should be 17 minutes.

- It happens that students try to focus on one particular question and if they are unable to solve it, they get confused. Don’t panic. Start next question. If student has time, he / she can take up that particular question later on.

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