March 8, 2023
Come March and April, and then the exam fever rises higher and higher! Since a decade the tenth standard and pre-university exams have become so important for the future academic life of students, that they cause invariably some anxiety and stress among students and sometimes result in some cases of severe psychological imbalances. Not only the students but even their parents get tensed and worried. Let me here speak and highlight the negative repercussions on students’ psychological wellbeing due to these exams. No doubt, the emphasis on these and other national competitive exams - like JEE, NEET, CAT- have brought about a fresh niveau in our educational system in India, a genuine spirit of competition, (though many a time over-competition) and a special desire or urge to perform better, and achieve higher results and attain higher goals. All this, if rightly understood, no one can deny as they go to enhance the academic temper in educational institutes.
We also know that there are good number of students who cope well with these competitive exams and excel. These are of good mental calibre, studious, responsible and fortunately of a good family and social ambience that support their efforts and striving. We appreciate them, but the purpose of this article is to help those who do not have the privilege of joining this group, those who are deprived of a good ambience and psychologically not strong enough to face the situation, at the same time sincerely desire to perform and shine. Who will say that they should not be helped and encouraged?
As a psychologist, I would like to pay attention to the mental wellbeing of students and let me first provide some general tips for success in academics and then elaborate on the diagnosis of exam stress through external symptoms and suggest some positive remedies to overcome and prepare themselves well for their forthcoming exams.
Need for remote preparation
Any programme or an event in order to be successful, needs preparation and planning. A celebration like annual school day, a feast, a wedding, a jubilee, a project to construct a new house, or any such thing for that matter needs preparation and planning, without that nothing can be achieved.
For students tenth and preuniversity exams are great events of their career as students, as their future considerably depends on their performance in these exams. Hence they should think, reflect and imagine how they can prepare well in advance, how they have to plan their studies, how they have to organise their daily academic schedule and the like. The parents should take some quiet moments with their wards, take them for an outing or give them some presents in order to prepare them mentally, then intimately converse and have a dialogue with them at the very beginning of the academic year on the above points. This will motivate them well to focus their attention on studies from the very beginning of the academic year. Then prepare a time table suitable and acceptable to them so that they can make best use of their time. List the subjects, tough as well as lighter ones and allot proportionate time to each subject without neglecting any. Let them have breaks now and then and relax and distract themselves with other cocurricular activities and hobbies.
Again and again let the students affirm and convince themselves that ‘regular and systematic efforts shall bear abundant fruits’. Let them repeat to themselves, “I believe in God and I believe in myself” and the reward will definitely be theirs.
The proximate preparation will be smooth, if remote preparation is done well, regularly and systematically. The immediate preparation must begin with two strong inner motives, first a strong desire to do well in the exams, second willingness to follow the discipline of studies by committing whole heartedly to hold on to the daily schedule, made in view of the exams. There are bound to be distractions but strong determination is necessary to hold on till the end.
Then sufficient self knowledge is important for best results. Know your academic calibre, namely in which subjects you are weak so that you devote more time for these, and acknowledge what you do not understand, so that you can consult teachers and your friends and clarify the concepts. Pay also attention to the scoring subjects like mathematics which may demand more attention during this time.
Diagnosis of exam stress
Why exam stress occurs is the question we need to ask first? It is sheerly due to lack of interest in academics in general and deliberate neglect of studies throughout the year. When exam comes near some sort of dread, fear and preoccupation with the results, anticipation of what will happen if the results are bad, etc. torment the mind, and definitely causes stress. The disproportionate demands and unrealistic expectations from the parents and teachers can be an additional cause. When the students are overwhelmed with these, fear envelopes their mind and anxiety is generated, pressure of studies becomes unbearable and then occurs the exam stress.
How to diagnose the stress? What are the external signs or symptoms of this stress? Of course those who observe the students every day, the teachers and parents, should discern and identify the symptoms in their behaviour. First thing is a dislike for studies and a gloomy mood, inability to concentrate and focus on academics, lethargy and sluggishness, getting distracted with unnecessary things and inability to sit and study for a while, problem of disturbed sleep called insomnia, irritation, getting angry unnecessarily, and in extreme cases sweating, chest pain and nausea. All these need to be handled carefully and swiftly.
How can the students get rid of exam stress?
1. Get help from Psychologist or Counsellor: The first thing what a student can do is to get external help, may be from parents or from the teachers and if possible to go to a counsellor or psychologist for consultation. Certainly, this can help to cope with the immediate event of the exam, provided the student shares the difficulties and perceptions frankly and is ready to make necessary changes in daily living. Human mind is always open to learn and adjust, provided we guide it properly.
2. Remain positive: Stress gives rise to negativity, the more you become negative more will be the pressure of stress. Start thinking positively, assert yourself and believe in your own potential. Repeat regularly positive affirmations, that you will succeed, you are courageous and able to face the challenges of life without any fear. Accept yourself, affirm your uniqueness, your identity and your future that you can make it bright.
3. Some external aids: (i) Breathing exercise: Breathing exercises can help the students to relax, and cool down from all tension and anxiety. Take ten deep breathes continuously for multiple times a day. Fresh oxygen received through deep breathing activates the nerves and energises the mind. Naturally the stress will be lowered and gradually you become stress free. (ii) Get a good sleep at night: Getting enough sleep is vital for thinking and performing your best, which is a must on exam days. Never reduce sleep time on exam days. Remain fresh and cool when you go for exam. Then the memory will function better and the quality of your performance will excel. (iii) Maintain a balanced diet during exams: During the examination season, neither overeat nor fast, but eat good and normal food, i.e., normal quantity followed by normal regular exercises. A healthy diet and ample water intake not only keep you physically healthy and active but also mentally sound and strong.
4. Role of the parents and teachers: The parents and also teachers should know that they can both aggravate and lessen the exam stress of the students. Therefore they should play the role of a catalyst to strengthen the potentials of their students. Motivate them to be more committed and concentrated by instilling courage and confidence and never fear and anxiety. Make them disciplined, encourage them to stick to their schedule and enhance their capacity to focus and concentrate. Please know that the more they think about results, more they will become anxious. Never anticipate results by speaking about the grades, marks and your expectations. Result will follow, it will correspond to one’s performance. Hence focus should be on performance and never on the result. Teach them to accept the result bravely and face life squarely and plan for the next stage of life. Let your entire focus be on the preparation. If they willingly try and struggle to do their best, and focussed well, do not disturb them with unnecessary exhortations, comments and very especially with comparisons with other classmates and neighbours. Know, your child is unique with wonderful potentials. Unearth these and never compare with the potentials of others. Never humiliate or disappoint the students but encourage and support them, help them and understand them.
Parents must create a good ambience in the home for study by cancelling unnecessary activities and programmes, and abstaining from criticisms, loose talk and gossips. The discipline of the parents will inspire and influence children. Converse with them on their academic topics and show interest in what they do. However busy parents are, they should make it a point to get more involved with the concerns of their children before and during exams time. This really matters. It is their responsibility, to be with their children.