Taming tests, coping with stress

Last Updated 07 July 2010, 10:48 IST

Board examinations are always anxious times for both for parents and students. Social visits, holidays and leisure activities are put on hold when a child in the family is in the 10th, 11th or 12th grade. The pressure to perform well and secure admissions to “prestigious” institutions for professional courses is very high in India.

Parents need to realise that the scenario is very different from what it was in their times. All good students need not necessarily become engineers or doctors to be described as ‘successful’. Today, people can make successful careers in many diverse fields as long as they have passion for the subject and are willing to work hard.

Having said that, board exams and competitive exams are important because there is competition in every field, and admission to a course is largely through entrance exams.
For engineering courses, we have IIT-JEE, AIEEE, BITSAT and CET among other tests. For medical courses, we have  AIIMS, JIPMER, CMC, PMPD and CET exams. For a career in law there is CLAT; and for a career in commerce and finance there are CA, ICWA and CAT exams. In this article, I’ve attempted to answer some frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between a board exam and a competitive exam?
A board exam is an assessment exam, while a competitive exam is an elimination exam. Now, what does that mean? In a board exam there is a finite syllabus, there are prescribed books, questions are restricted only to those printed pages in the prescribed books, and, most importantly, if theoretically all students study very well, all students can be given 100 per cent. The marks that a student scores does not depend on the performance of other students. So, how much must a student study for a board exam? The student must be thorough with the content in the prescribed books. This depends on the student’s ability and speed to  assimilate ideas.

Competitive exams, on the other hand, are elimination exams where a large number of students are to be eliminated due to the limited availability of seats. In most national level exams such as IIT-JEE, AIEEE, PMPD, CET, CLAT, and so on,  the percentage of seats available to number of students applying is around 2 per cent. This means 98 per cent of students who apply have to be “failed”. This is achieved by making the paper tough and lengthy, and by giving questions that are not from  prescribed books.
In such a situation, when can a student say he has studied enough? He can say so only when he is better prepared than all other students appearing for the exam! Thus, his definition of being ready for the exam depends directly on the effort, ability and speed of other students!

Which is more important— the board exam or the competitive exam?
Parents and students must understand that the results of the board examination and the corresponding marks and certificate stay with the student for life. Performing well in the board examination is very important and cannot be neglected. All competitive examinations can be better tackled when a student is thorough with the prescribed books of the board exam.

However, being thorough in only the board examination is not sufficient.
There are many instances of students securing aggregates of over 95 per cent in the pre-university examination, but not being able to clear IIT-JEE or AIEEE. Why does that happen? Simply because the prescribed books of the board examination are not sufficient to perform well in the competitive examination. A student must prudently balance his time between board exam preparation and competitive exam preparation.

How should a student balance his time between the two?
Studies have shown that in order to master a particular concept, one needs to review it at least 4 times. In the case of preparing for a board exam, the first time you come across the concept is when the teacher explains it in class. The second time is when you read the prescribed text; the third time is when you revise the same before the test; and the fourth time is when you revise it before the final examination.

A similar four-level review is necessary when preparing for  a competitive exam. Just as you revise the subject matter and study for the board exam, it is important to prepare for the competitive exam from the 11th grade itself.

Do not postpone your preparation for the competitive exam for the time after your boards.

The first review must be during the academic year along with board studies. Along with the unit tests for the board exam, write a sample test for the competitive exam based on the same chapters of study. The second review is in the preparation for these sample tests.

Once the board exam is over, in the free time between the board exam and the competitive exam, revise all the chapters once again. This study is the third review, which should preferably be done using a different set of books.

The week before the competitive exam must be spent only on practice tests or mock tests. This forms the fourth and final revision for the competitive examination.
How should I plan my studies?

Doing well in examinations is not very difficult. Here are some simple tips. Simple as they may be, the challenge is in the implementation.

Be attentive in class
Many students facing board exams attend  coaching classes. This makes them casual in class. Please understand that 6 precious hours each day are spent in school. Make the most of it. Be very attentive in class and ensure that you have understood everything the teacher has taught in class even if he is a “boring” teacher or a “bad” teacher. Learn as much as possible as it is your time that is being spent.

Get into the habit of writing
I meet many students who read maths and numerical problems in science! By reading the book you have simply verified that the author of the book knows what he is talking about and he has solved the problems correctly. Does it mean you will be able to solve similar problems correctly? In 60 per cent of the cases you will not be able to correctly solve a complicated problem that you read through last week. There is no substitute to closing the book and solving the problem yourself. Solving 10 mathematical problems is far more effective than reading through 50 problems!

It is very important that  you maintain a book of important formulae, points and ideas. This book must be made during the first revision. It is invaluable at the time of the actual exam as it helps you complete your revision in a single day.

When in doubt, check it out
Your responsibility as a student does not end with attending classes. You have the responsibility of ensuring you have understood what has been taught. Take ownership of the learning process. If any idea is not clear, get it clarified immediately through a teacher, a friend or a book. Do not try to hide your lack of understanding as you will be the loser. Make sure that you ask for and get the necessary help to understand what has been taught in class.

Your parents are your well-wishers. Take their help
The journey through the board exams and competitive exams is challenging. It becomes easier when you have a solid support system. Your parents have your best interests at heart. Take their help and support.

Parents, beware
I have done my job as a parent by securing admission for my child in the best college and coaching centre.
Not true. Signing up for a popular class does not guarantee good performance in the exam. It is important for you as a parent to engage in a regular conversation with your child. You need to be aware of his progress through the entire academic year. Do not police your child, but put in place an early warning system to pick up any signs of trouble. Be available to your child to help him fix the problems he  faces.
No matter how big the building is or how expensive the coaching class is, it is the teacher who is the backbone of the class. Look for quality and experience when you scout for a coaching centre.
It is not safe for girls to stay in a hostel far away from home.
Do not deny your child the opportunity to study in a good college simply because she has to stay in a hostel. hat would be a crime.

Fact or fiction?
Coaching classes are a must. Extra coaching is not required if fundamental concepts are taught well in school. However, if the concepts are not clear, attending some form of coaching is always helpful.

Preparing for the boards is  preparation enough for competitive exams.This assumption is not true. Competitive exams call for a different kind of preparation. As schools/ colleges do not specifically guide students for competitive examinations, it could be useful to attend focused classes or become a part of focused study groups.

(Published 07 July 2010, 10:41 IST)

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