Aiding Exam Stress In Asia

A recent article in the BBC discusses rituals used in Asia to combat exam stress, words by Jody-Lan Castle:

Exams are a time of great stress. Especially in East Asia, where the pressure is on to achieve sky-high results. Here are some of the ways that exam-crazy students from across Asia ensure they pass with flying colours.

1. How KitKat got lucky.

Traditionally, Japanese students would eat Katsudon before or on the day of an exam, comprising a warm bowl of rice topped with egg and a deep-fried pork cutlet. The dish name’s likeness to the word “katsu”, meaning “winning” is thought to bring students luck. But KitKat in Japan has also been marketing itself as a bringer of good luck.

Pronounced as “Kitto Katto”, the chocolate’s name is similar to the phrase “Kitto Katsu”, meaning “surely winning”, making it a good candidate for a good luck charm.

2. An apple a day.

Canteens across Hong Kong University campuses serve apples, and a variety of apple dishes, in the run-up to the exam period.

“The pronunciation of apple in Chinese is “ping guo”, which also means “safety”. So it’s considered that you will safely pass the exam,” says Chong Wang, from Nanjing in China.

3. Avoid washing your hair.

In your vicious cycle of all-night revision, microwave food and highlighter pens, you may have forgotten to have a shower. But not to worry – in South Korea, it’s thought that washing your hair could wash all the knowledge out.

“There was one boy in our class who didn’t wash hair before exams. The rest of the time he was very clean, but once you came to know his exam ritual, you didn’t want to go near him,” said one student about a classmate.

4. Going nuts over the exams.

Around a month before exams start in Hong Kong, students in clubs, societies and residential halls, will gather for “super pass”, or ging guo.

“Superpass” is a series of activities aimed at helping you pass your exams with a top score. The first part is the super pass dinner, which is usually held at a Chinese restaurant. It’s important that students eat pork cubes with cashews, one of the signature super pass dishes. The Chinese word for “cashews” sounds like the word for “wish to pass”, and “pork cubes” sounds like “desire for a distinction”.

5. A slice of luck.

Returning to the hall, it’s time for everyone to have a turn at slicing through a giant roast pig, considered to be an important sacred offering in China. Each participant is given one try at cutting the pig into two halves.

Those who succeed are thought to go on to pass all their exams the first time around, and those who fail will have to re-sit some. This is followed by eating kiwis, as the Chinese word for the fruit sounds like “easy to pass exams.”

6. Praying for success.

Many students in East Asia have the attentive support of their parents, whether they want it or not.

“Some parents wait for their children outside the exam hall praying for them to pass,” says South Korean teacher Ji-Youn Jung, “My mum did, but my test results turned out to be awful.” Ultra-keen parents will go as far as praying at Buddhist temples every day for the 100 days leading up to the exam.

7. Lucky watch versus a slippery soup.

In South Korea, the slipperiness of the widely-eaten seaweed soup is thought to mean you will lose all the knowledge from the notes you’ve been revising like mad. “I try not to have seaweed soup before important plans like exams or interviews. But if I happen to eat it without consciousness, I don’t worry too much,” Ji-Youn says.

But Chong Wang from China says: “My tradition is to have noodles for breakfast on exam day, as noodles mean “everything goes smoothly” in Chinese. But I also take my lucky watch.”

8. Chicken power.

A bit of sugar might give you an energy boost, but South Koreans also believe that this sugary snack could have exam-passing powers. Yeot, a traditional sticky food, is eaten before important exams, especially university entrance exams.

Or else drink some chicken juice, which is thought to give your brain a boost.

9. Wear red underwear.

Red is widely believed to be a lucky colour in China. So many believe that it’s a good idea to wear some red clothing, or more specifically red underwear, during an exam. When a person is particularly successful, there is a Chinese saying, “Are you wearing red underwear?”

But Chong Wang warns: “Some people may avoid wearing red during exams because in China, fail scores are written in red on score sheets.”

10. Pray for mercy from the “Bell Curve God.”

The Bell Curve God is an embodiment of university students’ fears of the bell curve grading system used in Asia’s top universities, such as the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

Bell curve grading means not just measuring how well you did in an exam, but rather how you did about everyone else in your class. In an already high-achieving country, that pushes competitiveness to the max. Shrines to the Bell Curve God have been set up at both universities, where food and candles are left as offerings to the “God.”

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