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Exam isn't the end of the world

Last Updated : 21 March 2023, 04:15 IST
Last Updated : 21 March 2023, 04:15 IST

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Board exams in India are accorded a prominent position not only in students’ imagination but in the larger culture as well. When a child is appearing for the board exam, parents have sleepless nights. Teachers, under pressure to produce stellar results, observe their students’ faces as they get out of the exam hall. If pupils come out smiling and relaxed, teachers heave a sigh of relief.

To add to the drama, relatives, neighbours, and possibly even the milkman, may enquire how a child’s exams are going. Thus, when practically everyone around you seems to believe your exams are the most crucial stepping stone in your life, it’s understandable that you think they are the be-all and end-all of your future.

While I am not suggesting that you don’t take them seriously or study hard for them, you must remember that the Boards are only one of many tests that you will face in life. This is not meant to scare you or make you think that you have to be jittery all the time. Like most things in life, we have to learn to take exams, at the school or collegiate level, in our stride and not get unduly frazzled when an exam doesn’t go well.

When I was doing my ICSE History exam in Grade 10, I turned over the question paper and failed to see an entire section that was worth ten marks. Ten whole marks, I gasped, when I realised my error of omission after the exam. I was distraught beyond words. Fortunately, my history teacher and mother didn’t berate me or go ballistic when they heard of my carelessness. Yet, I sobbed and probably wasted an evening. But the next day, life ambled on and I finished my remaining exams. Though I was nervous when the results were coming out, I don’t think I was more perturbed than my peers. And, I did just fine.

That incident happened when I was 15 years old. Now, I am 50. With the benefit of hindsight, let me tell you that, honestly, losing those ten marks has not made a dint of difference to my life. Of course, if I were a student toeing the borderline of passing or failing, the results would have been more consequential. But even failing an exam need not spell doom or the end of the world. I would probably have had to retake my exams the following year, and life would have marched on.

Taking a long view

What you need to remember is that success does not propel or prop you up, ad infinitum. Instead, your attitude to setbacks and failure will determine whether you swim or sink over the long haul. Believing that mistakes must be avoided at all costs is not conducive to learning or growth. If you err or hit a roadblock, do you just freeze in place? Or, do you try to circumvent the obstacle by finding alternative pathways? No matter how dire a problem may seem, you can always find ways to overcome or cope with it.

Further, it helps to take a long view. In a blog post of the British Psychological Society (BPS), writer Emma Young cites research on the benefits of taking a “distant-future perspective.” Suppose you’ve botched up a set of exams and are feeling miserable. Take a moment to perform a visualisation exercise. Imagine yourself twenty or thirty years down the line. Are you likely to be thinking of this set of exams? Even if you do end up remembering it, it’s unlikely to rattle you the way it does today.

Finally, practise self-forgiveness. As Young writes, you are less likely to fall into the throes of anxiety or depression if you forgive yourself and move on. Being gentle with yourself doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge your errors. At the same time, you don’t need to get bogged down by them. As Dr Victoria Lewis writes in another blog post of BPS, “one's success in life is rarely a straightforward trajectory.”

Even if you’ve been a straight-A student for most of your life, expect missteps, mishaps and mistakes. But every time you trip up or fall over a roadblock, remember you can also rise and manoeuvre around it. This attitude, more than the highest marks you’ll ever score, will help you lead a fruitful and fulfilling life.

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Published 21 March 2023, 04:05 IST

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