Seventeen-year-old Udit* has been preparing for his class 12 board exams for the past year. But just a month before the exams are to begin, he thinks he is “not ready” for them. He is opting out. Scared of scoring low marks, Udit feels not taking the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams this time at all and preparing for next year is a better option.
“It is not that I started late. But in January I realised that I don’t know enough to appear in the exams and I should think about giving them next year,” he says.
One of the main reasons behind his decision is the fear of not getting a good rank and college for higher studies.
Udit, who is studying non-medical subjects, wants to take up Engineering in electronics after clearing his class 12, and wants to pursue it from the likes of IITs. “If I do not get good grades in class 12, I would not be able to secure a high rank in my entrance tests and getting a good college is the main purpose of giving board exams, right?” he says.
His parents and relatives have been trying to talk him into taking the exams, starting from March 1, whatever the results may be. But in vain.
“He has been preparing for the whole year but suddenly said that he is not ready. He is a bright kid and was aiming above 90 per cent in the results. We told him that it is okay even if he gets distinction or below but just take the exam, because we do not want him to waste a year. But he did not budge,” says Udit’s mother.
The stress and the pressure of getting admission in the country’s top colleges is such that students are not able to do their best at the school board exams. The month-long exams are seen as a deciding factor for the careers of lakhs of students.
According to doctors, there is a three-fold increase in the number of children reporting stress and depression during January and February, the period before the CBSE board exams (January-February). The increase reflects students’ failure to cope with the pressure.
“The number of children coming to us before exams has tripled in last few years. It was not so common earlier, but in recent years the number of kids coming to us from the announcement of exam dates has increased manifold,” says Dr Shobana Mittal, consultant psychiatrist at Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences (CIMBS).
Though depression, stress and anxiety are “common”, doctors say that they have also found an increase in the cases of ‘dissociative disorder’, which leads to disintegration of memory, identity and mode of sensory functioning.
“When there is acute stress, there is a conflict in the child’s subconscious mind which may also lead to pseudo seizures. We are also seeing cases where children have attempted self harm,” she says.
However, doctors say this is just the tip of the iceberg as they are many who don’t seek professional help. They suggest that the parents should recognise the symptoms and reach out for help either at the school level or with a professional intervention.
“It is normal that kids will worry during exams but parents should know to differentiate the normal anxiety with these signs. They should reach out for help if there is a difference in the child’s temperament, if he is low on energy or has crying spells and talks of self harm. These are all red alert signs,” she says.
Dr Mitali Srivastava, clinical psychologist at CIMBS, suggests children should be made aware of their capability and aptitude and goals set accordingly.
The CBSE offers pre-examination counselling for students and parents from February 1 to help them overcome exam-related stress. This is the 19 th consecutive year that the CBSE is providing psychological counselling services to students at the time of preparation as well as during the exams. The helpline will function till April 22, the last date of the exams.
The outreach programme is offered by principals and trained counsellors from CBSE-affiliated schools located in and outside India. It is a voluntary service and provided free of cost by the participants.
“This year 76 principals, trained counsellors from CBSE-affiliated government and private schools and a few psychologists are participating and addressing exam related psychological problems of the students,” an official said.
Students can dial the toll-free number 1800 11 8004 from any part of the country. This will give centralised access to CBSE helpline. While the general queries are answered by the operators, students are connected to the principals or counsellors in case of exam-related anxiety or stress. The helpline runs from 8 am to 10 pm on all days.
Deactivating there social media accounts is the first step in a list of measures students are taking to concentrate on their studies.
Aditya Shankar has deactivated his WhatsApp service, Facebook account, Instagram, and similar in the beginning of February.
“I instead go out to play cricket whenever I want to take a long break from studies. It energises me and I can concentrate much better after coming back,” he says.
Aditya, a student of Commerce, is aiming for 97-98 per cent. “I only fear English. Once I give that paper on March 1, I will be stress-free and will be able to concentrate on other subjects much better,” he says.
To cope with the stress of covering a “vast” syllabus, students like Aditya have set one-day targets for various sections of the subjects.
“Since there are so many days for preparation, I have chalked out days for each section of a subject. In English exam we have four sections, so I completed the syllabus for section four yesterday. But as today there is an India-Pakistan match, I will be doing the ‘Reading and Comprehension’ section, which is comparatively light than others,” he says.
The preparation these days not only demands students’ time but has an impact on whole of the family.
“We cut off our cable connection from the start of February as my daughter was addicted to television. The whole family is sacrificing so that she is able to concentrate on her studies and score good marks,” says Manisha Sharma, a parent.
Another parent says, “We have stopped going out for outings or movies and are waiting for the exams to end. This is a very crucial time. “
However, in order to deal with exam stress, experts advise that children should not keep on studying continuously and take breaks often.
“Children should keep taking breaks while studying every 45-50 minutes for improving their concentration,” Dr Shobana Mittal says, advising morning instead of overnight study, as that is “not committed to long- term memory”.