Worried about making the cut?

Battling Fear

Worried about making the cut?

It is heart-rending to read stories about students who became so anxious and scared just before their results that they commit suicide, and then after their death the result showed that they had done very well!

Most of us know about exam-related anxiety, but few know about results-related anxiety that students face – including the students themselves. End of exams, particularly of the Board variety, are supposed to be times of celebrations.

Most do celebrate, hang out with friends, catch up with movies, make a trip out of town, and feel the relaxation of not having to study.  But as the date of results comes closer, some students get very tense, at times even without knowing how much their stress level is going up. Many of them put up a brave front and hide their emotions – which is worse.

This is the time of the year when many results will be coming in one by one. Firstly it will be the results of the 10th and 12th Board exams, then results of various entrance exams, ranging from CET and IIT-JEE to NDA, CLAT, AIPMT, etc.  Some students can accept poor results or not being selected in prestigious institutions, in their stride. They adjust to the best available under the circumstances.  But many have set their heart on a particular bench-mark i.e. “I must get at least 90% marks”, “I must make it to IIT only.” 

These are the ones most likely to face a shock if for reasons beyond their control they do not reach their expectations. Before the results start coming in, it is better to plan out all alternatives and, however keen you are on one particular institution or career, keep what is known as ‘Plan B,’ worked out.

Plan B is a technique used by most successful leaders/managers wherein they focus on their specific goals, work hard and with confidence, but quietly work out a different path or alternative in case the main plan does not materialise. Such people ensure that they are not caught in an awkward situation, or that they do not take any last minute hasty situations.

Let us take one of the most sought-after entrance exams that was held last week – the IIT-JEE, or Joint Entrance Exam for all the IITs. Almost five lakh candidates appeared for less than 20,000 seats.  For those who do not wish to go to the new and not-fully-established IITs, the choice is less than 10,000 seats. And for those who are particular about a specific branch of engineering, there are probably less than 1,000 seats.

If a candidate is particular about getting into IIT-Bombay, there are less than 700 seats in all branches put together. Analyse the ratio, less than one out of 500 candidates will get a seat of his choice in an IIT.  And yet as a career counselor I come across innumerable students who, when asked what ‘career’ they would like to take up, answer without batting an eye-lid ‘IIT.’

Firstly, IIT is not a career, it is an educational institution that helps you become an engineer and then move on to your career.  Secondly, with statistical chances being so low, if a student has a headache on the day of the exam, makes a silly mistake here and there, or has a confusion that slows down answering the paper – and he has lost his opportunity.

It is not uncommon to learn about students going for ‘IIT coaching’ from the 8th standard onwards, and I have even come across some schools that start from 6th standard!  Imagine an innocent child being told for 5 long years that he is an IIT-aspirant, and if he does not get the seat, what emotional impact it can have on him. I know of students who have obtained admission in the prestigious NITs (National Institutes of Technology, through AIEEE), and were utterly disappointed or shattered, because they did not make it to the glamorous ‘IIT!’

Similarly there are those who set their eyes only on getting into MBBS. There are some who make up their mind that they will do their PUC or degree only in a particular college of their choice.  When that does not happen, and if the disappointment hits them suddenly at the last moment, they miss out on other equally good alternatives.

It is imperative that parents and students spend at least a part of this beautiful relaxed time (after exams and before results) working out their future careers, exploring the paths that can take them there, making alternative plans, and preparing mentally for a result that may be below their expectation. 

It has often been found that the students who get tense and even resort to harming themselves when their results are poor, are those whose parents have great expectations from them.

Innocent remarks by a parent like, “my daughter is so brilliant, she will definitely get a merit seat in MBBS” to a relative or friend, may put immense pressure on the child.  And if she finds that she does not get that coveted seat, she feels she has been a failure, she has let down her parents, that there is no future for her, and she should avoid the shame and pain by just running away from it all.

India has become a land of opportunities for students in the past two decades. Prestigious Indian institutions in a wide variety of fields are producing graduates who are not only excelling and competing globally, but are also teaching the Westerners a thing or two.  Recently Nitin Nohria, a Chemical Engineering graduate from IIT Bombay was appointed the first non-white and the youngest Dean of the most prestigious Harvard School of Business Management.

In an interview to the media, he was asked what he learnt in his 5-year B.Tech. in Chemical Engineering at IIT. He replied candidly, “I learnt that I did not want to be a chemical engineer.”  Senior to Nohria is this writer who studied Metallurgical Engineering at the same IIT, and is happily enjoying guiding and counseling students on their careers! At the other end of the spectrum are many illustrious achievers who reached the top without having studied in IITs or IIMs.

While there is so much talk about competition, there is a parallel explosion of alternatives and choices.  Bringing down anxiety and tension before results, if students (and of course their parents) sit down and chalk out all the various options, prioritise them, find out how many marks will get admission in which institution, it will be a smooth transition to move into the next phase of their life – which will be the phase that paves the way for a brilliant and successful career.

(The writer is a career counsellor)

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