Surviving the exam season

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Surviving the exam season

Come March, blood pressure tends to run high amongst a section of parents in the country. The children of these parents suffer from anxiety and pressure to perform. Julius Caesar is clearly not the only one who had to beware the ides of March, or so it appears.

With exams around the corner – life-altering boards for some and regular school exams for others – everyone seems to be poring into textbooks and revision notes at all times. Televisions are disconnected, cellphones are taken away, and every other form of distraction is shoved away in the loft.

When was the last time you felt your  stomach tighten with mild dread, butterflies fluttering somewhere deep inside? Your palms moisten with sweat, and your mind goes blank as though you remember nothing of what you’ve been studying all year. It seems as though you whole future would crumble in a matter of seconds if you mess this up.

Tuition masters are the ones benefiting from this season of utter panic, as parents and students somehow believe they are better than the teachers at school. Thousands of rupees are invested in extra classes that are bang for the buck when it comes to exhausting the students.

Coping with the stress

From teachers to parents, how much do we as adults contribute to the stress each young person feels before he sits down to answer those questions? The fear of disappointing your family could sometimes weigh you down more than the fear of not passing an exam. How, then, is it possible to attempt these supposedly highly important tests without falling victim to the stress that covers your mind like fog?

Teachers and examination boards across the country are suddenly waking up to the fact that anxiety and stress created by exams have grown into a much larger problem than initially thought to be. Stories range from smart young boys excelling at their GCSEs in the UK who jump off flyovers to girls in India waiting for their family to leave home before they write that one note explaining that nobody is responsible for the way they chose to end their lives.

Thanks to high competition, chances of getting admission into your own alma mater for higher secondary education have now become fairly remote. Face it, how sure are you that you would score over 98% if you took these exams today?

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records state that 570 students committed suicide in Karnataka in 2014, 560 students in 2012 and 672 in 2013. All India figures show that 8,046 students ended their lives in 2014, Maharashtra topping the list with 1,191, and Karnataka coming in fifth. This would mean Nagaland, with single digit numbers, is probably a student haven in comparison.

The Central Board of Secondary Examination, interestingly enough, has a whole section dedicated to dealing with exam stress on its website. Not only does CBSE offer bi-annual tele-counselling for staff and principals of schools, pre exams and post results, it also has a toll-free helpline to address anxiety and stress (1800-11- 8002). Of course, this would mean students would need to figure out that they needed help on their own as well.

Ms. John, a junior school teacher talks of how children as young as those in Class 2 have started feeling the pressure of having to perform well. “Parents don’t realise how upsetting it is for a child to be told to make sure they get an A grade on every test, how scared the child is when they think their mother might get upset with something as small as a bad spelling dictation score.”

A lot of professionals do agree that a little stress is probably good in terms of dealing with pressure in future as well, but to a certain degree. Catherine McPhail, from the University of Dundee, however, says “if you find your anxiety overwhelming, your performance could be badly affected. Becoming aware of what causes your anxiety will help to reduce the stress.”

As adults we worry too. We worry about whether we’ll make that flight we’re already running late for, we worry about whether our children will be the kind of adults we want them to be, we even worry about how the next meal is going to make itself without us having to step into the kitchen.

Easier said than done, worrying as adults is one thing, but passing on our stress down another generation is what  tips those vulnerable off the scale. Avoid telling your child to “stop it” when they’re anxious. Don’t threaten them with consequences if they flunked a test. This way, instead of having to reassure themselves, your child will probably end up reassuring you. Make yourself accessible and let your child talk to you instead. 

Here are some ways to help your child rock those exam blues away:

Listen

Don’t force your child to sit at the study table all day. Most people cannot be productive for more than an hour or two at a stretch. Every other moment is probably wasted. Instead, sit with them, urge them to take a break and talk about something else once in a while. Listen when they try to tell you how they are feeling, figure out what exactly is scaring them and what their biggest worry is.

Turn off your phone

Sometimes all they need is somebody to talk to. Try not to interrupt even if it tends to get repetitive. Turn off your phone for those 10 minutes, if not longer. At this point, your child’s crisis takes precedence over anything else, and the least you could do is give them your undivided attention.

Discuss the worst-case scenario

As tough as this is, talk to them about the ‘worst thing that could happen’. Get them to understand that even if it does, you’re not going to love them any less, and the earth is certainly not going to stop turning. Remind them that nobody is ever going to be embarrassed, and life is still going to keep going on with something new every day.

Make a list of things that could be done to stop those ‘worst-case’ situations from happening. Whether that means memorising those woeful tables or thinking up experiments to understand light refraction better, there’s nothing that can’t be understood easier with a little extra effort.

Make plans for the future

Think up ideas on what to do in case the worst actually does happen. Celebrate success, but don’t deny the pain of failure either. Success does build confidence, and there’s no harm in celebrating a speech well said, a walk-up to stage without tripping, or an exam passed (even if without top grades).

Besides, no matter how much groundwork gets done, let everyone take a break every now and then instead of sitting facing a book all day. Just read each question carefully, answer those you know best first and then take time to answer the rest. This way, you’ll not just have time to finish the whole paper, what you’ve answered will already be right.

Take each question, one at a time and before you know it those exams will be over. As surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, another year will pass, and, as the lovely Scarlett O’Hara so wonderfully put it, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”

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