To beat exam stress

To beat exam stress

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Sheena, Rahul, Rohit and Swapna are an inseparable gang. They have grown up together and are now facing their first Board exams together. They were telling me that their lifestyle has changed with the forthcoming exams that are supposed to decide their future. Two of them have exam fear, the other two are more relaxed – but deep down, they too have their apprehensions. All the four are united in expressing that their mothers are more tensed than they are!

As annual exams are approaching, there is a change in the normal routine of the whole family. Children are not entertained to watch television or use phone, not encouraged to spend time with their friends, guests’ visits are scaled down and the only word that resonates is ‘study’! While parents are looking for every means to ensure that their children perform better in the exams, they sometimes end-up in irrational methods that may actually make things worse.

A great deal has been written about how to improve study techniques, concentration, attention span and time management, so I will not repeat all those here. However, proven techniques such as Mind Mapping, SQ3RT, study planning for the day should definitely be practised on a regular basis systematically until the exams are over.

On the other hand, let us now focus on what you should not be doing as the exams come closer:

It’s perfectly fine to be tensed as exams approach. Acknowledge if you have low confidence in some subjects. Do not try to hide your feelings; admitting your feelings and talking it over significantly brings down the tension.

If any thoughts of possible failure keep creeping up, rationalise your thoughts and tell yourself that you will tackle the situation as and when it arises. Do not allow your motivation to come down thinking about failure.

Tell yourself that failures are your stepping stones to ensure that now you will do better. Try to ignore negative feelings of any scolding or criticism that you had faced earlier. Tell yourself that mistakes in the past do not define you.

Do not reduce your quantity or quality of sleep, except marginally. Not only your body, but even your mind needs the few hours of switching off and relaxation, and studying extra when you should be sleeping can actually reduce your retention of what you have studied.

Similarly, do not neglect your food intake, both quantity and timing. If you delay your meal because you are involved in your studies, you may actually end up learning less. Never compare your marks or performance with your classmates or friends. Discussion on marks before exams can only pull down your spirits.

Do not spend too much time on innumerable mock or preparatory tests. Practising how you will write the exam within the limited time is definitely fruitful, but doing it every other day takes away time from your regular study.

Do not succumb to reading only to memorise and put down on the answer sheet. A slight twist to the question will leave you confused. If you study to gain knowledge, you are better prepared to respond to any form of questions.

Don’t stop sports or any other physical activity completely. It makes your body, and thus your mind, lethargic. Reduce the time spent on games, but do take short breaks wherein you can do some physical activity. Avoid being on social media or playing online games as far as possible. Gaming addiction has been declared a mental disorder by the World Health Organization. Break free from it and do not allow friends to tempt you to get back to it, till exams are over. 

Do not rely on and start memorising “possible” question papers and “sure” questions. Most of the time they are circulated with some vested interests and everyone starts forwarding them to each other one more reason to keep away from social media in the coming weeks.

Do not neglect the subjects or chapters you are confident about and you assume you know thoroughly. Those who do not revise the ‘easy’ chapters run the risk of ‘blanking out’ in the exam hall, and once stuck, the answer refuses to surface – till you step out after the exam!

Don’t believe, or even keep the company of pessimistic people who are doomsday prophets, for instance, “whatever we do, we cannot score high”, “there is too much competition, we’ll never get admission.”

Parents and elders in the family need to be aware that some of their well-intended actions or words to the child can actually cause more harm and result in worse performance in exams. Hence, follow these simple tips to ensure that your child performs to his or her best ability:

Never compare your child with a sibling, cousin, classmate or even with Bill Gates or Satya Nadella. Your child is unique, allow them to grow and blossom out at his or her own pace.

Do not set unrealistic targets. A student who is averaging 50% marks actually loses enthusiasm and motivation if he thinks that his parents will not be satisfied with anything less than 90%.

Don’t get stressed yourself. This message is primarily aimed towards some of the over-enthusiastic mothers. Do not get stressed, it shows on your face and in your demeanour. It increases the tension in the child and makes it feel guilty, which can drastically affect performance. If you are getting overtly stressed, talk it over with a friend or a counsellor, but ensure that you are not on edge all the time.

Be relaxed

Do not go shopping for tonics and pills that “enhance memory.” Firstly, there are no such proven and certified products available, and secondly, there is nothing wrong with your child’s memory.

Don’t talk all the time about exams and studies at home, let the atmosphere be relaxed and normal as it is at other times. What the child needs is an encouragement to study smart not study hard. Use ways and means to discuss and find out what increases their motivation and what puts him at ease. Ignore minor lapses of not studying, spending time with friends, or sleeping late.

Once upon a time, we used to caution adults not to become “helicopter parents”, hovering above the child all the time.  Now hovering has become much easier with the coming of drones.  Please do not hover around like a drone, give space to your child. Check on them periodically but with sufficient time gap.

After each exam, do not discuss how the paper went, which questions he answered, etc. It can pull them down when preparing for the next exam. In fact, after coming out of the exam hall, go out for a snack, entertainment, quick shopping, etc., which acts as good de-stressors, enabling the student to get back to studies of the next subject with greater enthusiasm.

Exams are only stepping stones for students to move to the next phase of their life. Not every child can have a brilliant academic record, and not every child with a brilliant academic record makes a better career than others. Let the whole family team up to make exams a fun activity, and plan and work together as you would do for an important function or event or picnic. 

(The author is founder, Banjara

Academy, Bengaluru)

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