Exam Stress

Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)
It is examination (exam) season and the word exam scares one and all. Exams are also a crucial part of education and an inevitable cause of stress associated with them. This fear of uncertainty of performance in the exam causes exam related stress. The pressure is seen writ large on the face of not only the students, but also the teachers and parents. In many cases, exam stress is all in the mind, and mental indiscipline and poor time management are a large part of it. Students want good score against stiff competition, parents want their children to do well and schools desire to build up good reputation. This is all because these days school qualifying exam (s)are alarmingly hyped to an extent that if a child fails in the exams, he/she takes it as an end to his/her academic world. In reality, the exam does not spare anyone irrespective of the class or age, as such children face enormous stress at a young age.
Is stress always so harmful and can it be avoided? The answer is both yes and no. Some stress is natural and needed to remain glued and motivated to the study material, prepare and succeed and a large part of exam related stress can be avoided. However, too much of study becomes non-productive at some time as universal law of diminishing returns plays off automatically and unconsciously. The larger impact of this is that ill effects of too much stress can influence sleep, food habits, rest, concentration, memory, retention and general health thereby leading to overall low performance and betrayal of all the stake holders. Shocking aspect is that this stress starts taking its toll from the nursery class itself. One can simply say that exam stress affects students’ mental and physical health. It seems to be nature’s way of telling you to get on hard with it. It is an unavoidable part of student life that can be a challenge. This challenge only keeps growing.
Every student who aims to become a moderate or high-achiever, will experience exam stress. One needs to understand all aspects of this menace and its management to minimize the bad effects and reduce exam related stress. Remember, stress exists for a reason and you can choose to let it win over for your down fall or be a victorious. It is pointless to experience and see people agog with exam stress until one looks to its remedial measures. In order to avoid this possibly unavoidable situation, it is important to approach it with a clear understanding. Thus, it becomes very important to appreciate various reasons, stages, different roles and environment before dealing with it. Fact is there are quite a few things which one can do to reduce this facet of stress.
A conducive, supportive and encouraging family environment will play a very positive role in keeping away the students from stress. Parents understanding, internal atmosphere, awareness, habits, personal discipline, social activities control over unrealistically surging expectations, comparing children with other students, prioritization and positive common mood are fundamental to the nip the evil of stress in the bud. School has major contribution both ways in giving reason for stress due to type of teaching, class room management, counseling, sticking to systematic and quality teaching and experience of teachers’ interaction. One can say both should be inclusive and not exclusive to keep the students stress free.
Distractions and disturbances in various forms can be major sources of taking away valuable time of students. These distractions can be in the form of phones calls, notifications, social media feed, functions, loud speakers, music, non-scheduled guests and unwanted gadgets on and around the study table. They take away the precious time which otherwise can be used for study. Turning off notifications, switching off phones and gadgets and setting timings are the easiest things to do. A study table should have only what is actually needed since a cluttered desk is a reflection of cluttered mind. Distractions, disturbances and de-cluttering are essential for a supportive environment and less resultant stress. Frequent breaks too are mandatory since a human brain can focus better only for 45 minutes.
Majority of the students are victim of procrastration. This habit is universally a major cause of postponing easy solutions and accumulating pressure leading to last minute studies under tremendous pressure and stress. The pending of difficult chapters due to fear and assumed cramming during the last minute are no solutions. One must be wise enough to schedule each subject and chapter into hours, sessions, days, weeks and months. This will make one an organized personality and bring a sense of much needed punctuality and planned study habits.
Time is the biggest gift of nature bestowed upon everyone irrespective of any other factor. The nature credits each one of us with 86400 seconds every day with a non-extendable cum non-renewable shelf life of 24 hours only. The time as we all know, cannot be stored, stopped, recharged, lent, borrowed, purchased, gifted and topped up. It can comfortably and productively be utilized as per one’s wish. It is in this context that some students always remain stress free with good end score while other don’t do well and suffer from exam stress. Understandably both set of students are provided identical academic environment, faculty, test books and guidance. It is because the latter category fails to use the ‘time coin’ gainfully and discard common time wasters due to their poor preparation, last minute rush and confusion. An attitude of ‘I will tackle it later on’ is biggest draw back in managing time.
Clarity about the prescribed syllabus, prioritization, availability of study material and own strength and weaknesses are bed rocks to avoid pre-exam prangs and poor performance leading to stress. One needs to be sure of what needs to be studied and what is expected of him. When in doubt, do look at the syllabus and seek clarification from your teacher by a physical meeting. There should be just no ambiguity on how to handle all subjects. The prevailing tendency of accumulating photocopies of notes and so called ‘master keys’ must be guarded against as one really does not refer to most of them.
There is a phenomenon in psychology called context- dependent memory, which means that our memory is better when we learn by simulating exam environment. Try and study under pressure of time in a test like quiet room and simulated silence and vigilance as one would be actually exposed to. Taking advantage of this theory will lead to maximize your exam score even if feeling stressed out. This practice will also give one a sense of mental fatigue and physical tiredness to prepare to be ‘exam ready’. A word of caution will be not to rely totally on memory or course book. Make and take your class notes and teacher’s tips seriously since referring them is least stressing. Few key words and main idea stay in mind longer and one feels better prepared.
In the Indian context, there is always an overflow of free sermons for everyone. Whatever, this stress of exam and heightened anxiety cannot be without some reasons. One must know these to combat the problem and reduce stress. Few of such negative attributes have been identified as low motivation levels, lack of preparation, bad planning, procrastration, poor time management, disorganized mind, bad habits, false expectations and peer competition. Weak students will push against these odds; where as a good students will pause, reassess, reflect and march on an improved path.
Nothing comes free in this world and anything good comes with side effects. One needs to know, what and how much one wants to achieve, the efforts and focus and attached cost needed in terms of toll on health, sleep, stress, pressure, concentration and expectations. The vital subject of exam related stress demands far more care, planning, handling and close support for students who are young, inexperienced and aspiring. Stress free facing of exam is not impossible. After all exam are not announced overnight.