By Pooja Malhotra:
It’s that time of the year again, when burning midnight oil seems mandatory and whatever little time is spent in bed is wasted trying to pacify the butterflies in the stomach. Examinations are rarely perceived as an opportunity to show someone how brilliant you are; most of the time the mere thought of appearing for an exam triggers the body’s ‘flight or fight mechanism’ – the days of feeling the adrenaline rush, palms sweating, heartbeat racing….are back! It is a situation where nerves are totally justified and keeping this in mind this article has been conceptualized as a model test paper delving into the subject of “Exam Stress”. Though sample answers have been provided, I’m sure each student would attempt the questions differently based on their individual experiences, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and attitudes. Read on and maybe by the end of it you could try answering these questions for yourself.
Q1. Define Exam Stress and explain its causes.
Ans 1. Exam stress is defined as excessive worry about upcoming exams. Young people are apparently perturbed by the prospect of not achieving desired results in an exam. This leads to high levels of anxiety and exam stress.
Causes of Exam Stress:
a) Psychological factors - It is generally triggered by the fear of being evaluated and is experienced by most students, although to varying degrees. Apprehensions about fulfilling one’s expectations and that of others, especially parents and teachers, escalate stress levels. Other psychological factors such as negative thinking, self pity, feelings of inadequacy, helplessness and certain irrational beliefs may further aggravate exam anxiety. Fear of performing badly and eventually, missing out on a place in the desired college or university also contributes to it.
b) Study Methodology - Sometimes reading the text without understanding the concept and not making revision notes can prove to be detrimental. Being inconsistent through the year, last minute mugging up, binge studying and studying all night just before the exam also increases exam stress.
c) Lifestyle – Students tend to unconsciously overeat during this phase; they inadvertently binge on fast food, which may cause indigestion and stomach upset. Inadequate rest, insufficient exercise, lack of focus, inability to prioritize commitments, inefficient time management are other lifestyle issues that cause exam stress.
Q2. How do you cope with exam stress?
Ans 2. Stress happens when there are too many things to be done within a stipulated time period. A good way to cope with this situation is to prioritize your activities. It has been rightly said ‘One does not plan to fail; one simply fails to plan!’
One way could be to divide each of your daily activities into 4 groups:
a) Urgent and important (exam next day and loads to study)
b) Not urgent but important (preparing for an exam 2 months away or paying your bills within 3 weeks)
c) Urgent but not important
d) not urgent and not important (social networking)
The secret to time management and eliminating stress is to reduce the time duration of activities in (d) and most importantly preventing situations moving from (b) to (a).
These activities require a proactive outlook and a positive attitude or else indolence, self pity or procrastination would get the better of you. An organized effort eliminates the chances of last minute panic and undue stress. In fact meditation and pranayam help – just relax, take a breather and start again. This helps a lot in de-stressing as well as maintaining one’s focus.
Q3. Is it possible to avoid getting stressed before an exam? If yes, how can one minimize exam stress?
Ans 3. Being a little anxious before an exam or an interview or assessment is natural and may not be completely avoidable. Just as different people see the same picture differently, the exam paper and the stress involved in attempting to answer it are perceived differently by different students. Let’s emphasize that though there may be contradiction, stress levels are governed by a numerous factors such as level of preparation, expectations from oneself, the goal or target set by the student, beliefs, attitude, self confidence, support system of friends, family & teachers and much more.
Behaving like the ostrich burying its head in the sand and immersing oneself into books, notes & text while managing exam stress single handedly might not be a good idea. On the contrary, it may be best to talk to your friends and discuss with them, how they feel and are coping with it. Parents and teachers (who have already experienced exam stress) can offer guidance and tips that entail how things can be handled more effectively. Then, work out your own ‘De- Stress plan’.
Avoid spending time in front of screens – watching TV or spending time in front of the computer or playing online games is a big no since screens do not allow the senses and mind to relax. Taking short 15 minute breaks after an hour or so, getting good sleep, not watching TV (especially the night before the exam), judiciously following your study plan, making brief notes….can actually improve the brain’s ability to retain information and also help develop a conscious mechanism for minimizing anxiety.
An optimistic approach is the biggest asset; it’s best not to give exams a larger than life image. Though they may appear to be the single most crucial thing at the moment, in the grander scheme of life, exams play a miniscule role. Challenge your irrational thoughts and interrupt them with optimistic ones. Believe in yourself!
Q 4. What is the best way to prepare/revise for an exam?
Ans 4. The actual word is ‘re’vise. It’s not re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-vise. People just go on revising hundreds of times, ineffectively. Do it ONCE, but do it PROPERLY.
Speaking aloud is a good practice, better still explain it to someone. So helping slow learning students/friends will not only help you revise and understand concepts better, but also serves to establish better friendships in the process. In speaking aloud one discovers areas where there could be doubts, which would otherwise be discovered during the exam. You could also get your parents and siblings involved, play it like a game, like quiz… then see the difference.
Q5. What is the best way to approach an actual exam?
Ans 5. Young people seem to be pre-occupied with exams and it is this cloud of exam stress hovering over their heads every now and then that limits their psycho social world view. A delicate mix of the four spaces, namely, family, friends, study, leisure & entertainment can help ease the pressure. Having a structure in place to co-ordinate different efforts is the ideal way to approach an actual exam. Once you’ve prepared properly and to the best of your ability, stay relaxed, focused and calm; don’t panic when you see the question paper! Be confident, clear and concise. Keep your writing legible and present your answers neatly; avoid scratching/ scribbling /rewriting and remember to highlight important points.
This article is just a conceptual presentation. These answers may or may not be accurate but the questions that have been brought up are valid and relevant. I invite you to investigate and enquire how you would answer them for yourself.
Question yourself further – what if you could create a new space that allows the other four spaces (family, friends, studies/career and leisure) to thrive?
What if you could be more focused and levelled with your studies & exams?
What if you could manage your time as optimally as possible?
Whenever you feel yourself getting lax, you could be quick to catch yourself and get back on track, without straying into absolute passiveness.
What if you could have a deeper understanding of your priorities and concerns and keep that in mind when taking decisions?
What if you could feel free yet answerable; spending time with your books more out of choice than compulsion? What if it were a win-win situation?
The answers lie in creating a 5th space, a space that is a co-created transforming experience for young people. It is a space that is central in empowering a young person to deal with challenging situations (like exams) effectively, choose and lead a more fulfilling career, become a supportive and understanding family member, a trustworthy friend and make a responsible choice when it comes to making leisure or lifestyle choice. A space that makes the other four spaces (family, friends, study and leisure) count too! It is an experience that provides young people an opportunity to create a space where “the mind is without fear and the head is held high….” And exams are just another experience too…it’s the perspective that shifts!