Exams

How to banish exam stress? No gyan; all practical tips!

Dr Sanjay Parva
How to banish exam stress? No gyan; all practical tips!

The famous American football coach Paul Eugene Brown has said: "The key to winning is poise under stress". You might say here is another baba distributing his gyan on stress. But, read on!

Bet that simply the idea of banishing exam stress will leave you thrilled to resume your studies with enthusiasm.

“Exam stress is worrying about failure in the exam. Do not take the stress, it’s harmful for health, for your concentration and makes things worse than better. Take a deep breath, do these exercises, make such a timetable, eat a healthy diet and so on.”

Aren’t all sites, books and newspapers sounding the same a month before your exams? It seems you are their only target to share their wisdom. And you get so overloaded with wisdom that even wisdom begins to stress you.

“We’ve had it enough. As it is we are stressed, and these gyan lecturers are busy distributing their wisdom to us. Why don’t they leave us alone and let us be ourselves? Or even if they want to help us genuinely, give us something we can rely upon. Not these outdated and boring breathing exercises.”

Your reaction is the same, right? Obviously, one would react in such a manner when he is stressed and on the top of it the lectures from family, relatives, and these gyan gurus.

But, nothing of that sort will be dwelt with here. You only have to read on to know.

Study for yourself and to learn

Before discussing the ways to eliminate stress, do you know the full form of EXAMS?

“Examination” would be your answer; however, it is actually “Excitement and Masti with Studies”. Hope half of your stress would be relieved on knowing the exact meaning of exams?

You would be wondering, how exams could mean excitement and masti? Why not? After all, it’s we who have made the examination time a tough and testing one, a time to take stress. Though your parents and teachers have a lot of expectations from you to score well in exams but remember you are not appearing  the exam for them, it is for yourself.

If you score well in exams, you will be appreciated by your teachers, parents, and friends. But, if not, they will be the one to scold you and feel annoyed. This means you are appearing in exams to get affection and appreciation from them; your self-esteem and confidence are based on their judgement.

Examination is Excitement and Masti with Studies. When you understand this, half of of your stress would be relieved.

If they approve of you, you feel confident otherwise not. Though it’s normal to have expectations, but, ultimately you study for yourself and not for other’s sake. Your focus for study should be an enhancement in your learning and not just score grades to achieve others’ appreciation.

Remember the character Tyrion Lannister in the series Game of Thrones. Though he is small in size but makes up for his weakness by his high-level intellect. All the more, despite his size, he has a girlfriend.

What does the character display? What message does he want to convey? “Just stop trying to impress people around or care about what they say. Even if you do something cool, they may find reasons to disapprove you.” Similarly, you must not focus on unusual expectations laid by your teachers and parents.

Agreed, today’s schools and parents lay emphasis only on the grades obtained by the student and you can’t change the system. But, at least you can change your perspective towards your studies and exams. Most of the students get stressed at the exam time due to the pressure of expectations by their parents and teachers.

No TV, no phones, no hanging out with friends, no chatting on social media, in short nothing else than books must be your companion during exam time, are the instructions given by most parents.

Revealing his agony about parental pressure, Mayank Srivastava, a 13-year-old boy says that his family dreams about his admission in one of the top colleges of IIT. However, Tushar is least interested in IIT and wishes to gain admission in one of the fine arts college. And by the way isn’t 13 too early an age to think about IIT? At 13 or even 14, 15, 16 one should just be doing two things – playing and  Studying. You have only been studying, hence the exam stress.

Such parental pressures are common in every household. Let their expectations be and don’t get overwhelmed by them. Don’t retaliate and oppose your parents openly, but try to talk freely about your desires, capacity to learn and how you wish to proceed with your preparations.

You must study for yourself, keeping your learning process at the centre stage and you will automatically score well in exams. Having an open conversation with your parents and handling their expectations with a calm mind will help them understand your stress and make them supportive in your exam preparations. By remaining silent or accusing them, you would make the matters worse.

At 13 or even 14, 15, 16 one should just be doing two things – playing and studying. You have only been studying, hence the exam stress.

Was that too philosophical? Yeah! It seems to be so, but you need to set a clear goal for your studies; whether it’s just passing an exam or learning something new. Once you proceed with a clear aim, you can make your study time fun and interesting by exploring various ways to learning a concept; rather than just memorising and forgetting it later.

Because once you learn and understand a concept, it will be imbibed in your memory for life and you wouldn’t require an extra effort to remember it. Contrastingly, just cramming and memorising the lessons would give no result. They would be forgotten due to stress and you won’t be able to reproduce them in the examination; further adding to your stress.

Moreover, the approach of the students towards the exam is very cynical. They feel that the schools conduct exams to test their knowledge, but actually, it’s not a test, it’s an opportunity to know your strengths and weaknesses. Exams are a medium where you know your field of excellence and shortcomings related to your studies.

Engage in creative ways to make study time fun and combat boredom

Many students equate effectiveness of their study with the number of hours spent with books. However, it’s not the quantity but quality of time spent reading the book or taking notes that matters. It’s not worthwhile to spend hours with your book and not learning even worth a single penny.

Moreover, learning doesn’t only happen by reading books. Engaging in interactive activities and fun games also makes you learn and retain it for longer. This is how exams become exciting and enjoyable. You learn better by doing it yourself; rather than just reading from the book.

Let’s say you are reading about the Archimedes principle that states “The buoyant force or upthrust exerted on an object partially or completely immersed in water is equal to the weight of the water displaced by the object.”

You would be reading several examples explaining the principle like why does an air balloon float whereas the iron needle sinks in water. And you cram the concept and write exactly the same in your answer paper. But, did you ever try to learn and understand the principle? Ever tried using the principle in your daily life?

Did you know bathing in your bathtub is also dependent on the same principle? That’s why a level is engraved on the bath tub to warn people to avoid filling it beyond that level.

 Yes, you might be a champ in memorising things and remembering them, but did you learn anything by simply reproducing it in the exam? This was just one concept, but you have to memorise a number of lessons for the exam and the process gets boring after sometime. You tend to lose your motivation as well.

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.” Motivation needs to be constant in order to stay upbeat through your exams. Surround yourself with positive and hard-working people that keep you motivated to follow the right approach towards your exams.

Incorporate some fun experiments to learn your lessons, you will learn better and remain motivated to study and explore further. Use your imagination and creativity to think beyond the lines written in the chapter.

For example, while solving a Maths equation, just imagine a situation where you can fit those numbers and arrive at the answer. This helps to escape boredom and makes studying easier and fun.

Sharing his experience, Sena Alkadir from Garfield High School used a simulation of a presidential election to learn and understand the different aspects of elections in an interactive manner. “Although I knew everything about elections, but simulating an actual election helped me to understand better how they work and how do different groups have an influence over an election”, says Alkadir.

Incorporate some fun experiments to learn your lessons, you will learn better and remain motivated to study and explore further. Use your imagination and creativity to think beyond the lines written in the chapter.

Having fun while studying is the reason for the rising trend of studying in groups, where students study, gossip, and enjoy together. After reading a particular topic, you can organise a quiz amongst yourselves to have fun and know how much you have learned and understood the chapter.

Do not keep your exam preparations for the last minute

Preparation for your exams, better to call it learning process needs to be consistent; just like an athlete needs to practice round the year and not only when the competition is near. If you focus on your learning process during regular school hours and while doing your homework the whole year, you need not panic at the time of exams. Examination time can then be utilised for revision of topics or practising your weaker subjects.

Many students argue that regular school hours are so hectic, plus, teachers resort to assigning loads of homework that they are not able to find time for any extra-curricular activities or outdoor games to relax their mind. This further leads to their loss of interest in studying and learning. They just feel like getting through the boring lectures delivered in class and finishing their homework whatsoever.

Sarah, a student in New Jersey remembers one of her experiences in school. Every day her class schedule was the same: read the chapter, complete the worksheets and copy down immense PowerPoints for the rest of the class. The only learning in class was to learn to write fast and continue writing even with hand cramps. “I never really learned anything in that class; I just memorised the information, took a test on it and then forgot everything. Imagine that cycle for an entire year. It was tremendously boring.”

True, the methods of teaching in many schools require students to be seated at their desks for long hours and listen to the lecture delivered. Such one-way teaching fails to maintain the student’s interest in the subject, more so in learning.

If the schools cater to the learning demands of the student and revise their teaching methods to make them interactive, it would benefit the students in the long run. However, you can suggest some ideas for interactive learning in your school because the trend is changing now and schools are open to new ideas and methods of teaching.

Setting an example of a practical approach to learning and its benefits to their students, the Head teacher at Manor Public School, Kate McGee explains how her school utilises practical activities like gardening, cooking, and filmmaking to teach English, Maths, Philosophy and other subjects.

In her opinion, children respond and learn better when engaged in practical activities, rather than reading from textbooks. They grow in confidence if you give them a task to do, which they are able to achieve. And this can be incorporated into teaching the curriculum in an effective, engaging and enjoyable way.

In case you resort to last minute preparations, which though are not advisable, set your priorities for studying a particular topic according to its relevance.

Plus, such learning won’t require continuous revision now and then and students will be better prepared for their exams. It opens their mind to a vast variety of experiences in the subject and raises their chances of success.

However, in case you resort to last minute preparations, which though are not advisable, set your priorities for studying a particular topic according to its relevance. Do not aim at completing the entire syllabus at the last moment; this will create an undue pressure and enhance your anxiety.

Just aim to cover the relevant topics and give your best shot. Amit, a class XII student of Green Fields School, New Delhi shares his story on this. He was a bright student and became a little overconfident of himself. He resorted to last minute studies for his exam thinking he already knows the concept and could make it with little revision at the final hour.

But, to his surprise when he sat down for studies, he realised that he had missed out on many topics and would not be able to cover the entire syllabus for the exam; leading to stress and anxiety. He then recalled the words of his Maths teacher, “If you can’t complete 100% of your syllabus, do it as much as you can, but give your 100% to that little chunk of the syllabus.”

What he meant to deliver through these words was that you must be consistent with your studies and learning throughout the year. Yet, if you feel you can complete only 60% of the syllabus at the exam time, do that 60% sincerely. Aiming for 100% at a short notice only makes you anxious and even that 60% will be lost, leaving you blank and completely helpless.

Be confident of yourself

“A great figure or physique is nice, but it is self-confidence that makes someone really beautiful.”

However, the undue pressure from the teachers and parents and vastness of the curriculum may leave some students with a lack of confidence in themselves. This not only occurs minutes before entering an examination hall but also haunts during exam preparations.

Students carrying books to the examination hall, flipping through pages at the last minute, and biting their nails is a common sight during these months. No, there is no harm to carry a textbook along to the examination hall, but experts recommend relaxing and thinking about happy stuff few minutes before the exam to combat anxiety.

Like you can think about some funny joke cracked by your friend or a comedy scene watched on TV before your exam. The idea is to relax and keep your mind deviated from the obvious anxiety before entering the examination hall.

Don’t let the pressure of your teachers and parents overpower you. Stay calm, have a positive approach towards yourself and your studies, and prepare well. Do not keep anything for the last moment revision just before entering an examination hall.

A great figure or physique is nice, but it is self-confidence that makes someone really beautiful

It’s advisable to review your chapters by organising a question answer session with your friend an evening before the day of the exam. The review helps to test your expertise on the subject, diagnose any flaws that need your attention and build your confidence to face the exam.

Moreover, the more you fear, more you will lose your confidence and more will be the stress. The only way to develop self-confidence is to do the things you fear. If you fear the subject of Maths, sit down and solve some equations, don’t fear whether you will do right or wrong, just do it and gradually you will experience self-confidence and a sense of achievement.

Remember the caption of the soft drink, “Mountain Dew”, “Darr ke Aage Jeet Hai”. It’s not only a caption to market their product, but reflects the truth of life. Until you indulge into doing the task, you won’t learn and won’t develop self-confidence.

Sleep tight and sleep on time

All are aware of the saying “Early to bed, early to rise makes the man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But the recommendation is now taken for granted and students do not pay any heed to it, thinking it to be a fool’s statement.

Though the significance of adequate sleep can’t be ignored even at normal times, examinations are the time to follow the advice more sincerely. Do not stay up late till night for your studies. Prepare your time-table accordingly so that you go to bed at the same time every day. This is in accordance with your body clock that is accustomed to sleeping and eating at particular times.

Any major changes with the routine will have negative effects on your body and mind, further disturbing your concentration and shaking your confidence. A good night’s sleep is essential for your brain to analyse and store the things you have read.

We are not forging into the bad effects of waking late till night; everyone is aware of it. The immediate tiredness and bad mood experienced says a lot about the bad effects of sleeping late at night.  You not only have to sleep early but, also consider the daily sleeping routine which must be consistent.

Never go to bed reading a chapter or solving some heavy maths equation; your mind tends to reconcile on those things during sleep and you do not get complete rest. It is advisable to listen to some soft instrumental music or read a motivational story before going to bed.

What majority students do is wake up till 2-3 am at night romancing their textbooks and sleep late in the morning to cover up on their sleep. Either they wake up late wasting most part of their day or feel tired after rising. Have you ever realised what impact will this have on your concentration?

And then you blame the vast syllabus for your anxiety. It’s not the syllabus alone, rather your approach towards it that makes sense. You can either plan and maintain a balance between your health and studies or just keep on studying like an owl.

Moreover, staying awake till late hours on the day just prior to your exam is all the more harmful. Go to bed early on that day and wake up 15-30 minutes prior to your usual waking time so that you can get ready for the exam on time.

The correct method of study

Normally, students just cram their chapters and feel they are done with their preparation. But, when it’s time to write in an answer paper, they just go blank and are unable to recollect the answer.

To avoid this, it’s important to always take down the things you read in your own writing so that you remember them for a longer period of time and enhance your learning. The common habit of students is to highlight the major points in a chapter with a special pen and then keep on memorising it for hours.

No doubt highlighting the important points does serve your purpose of paying attention to the chunk of information from a pool of knowledge. Yet, writing down things in your own language reiterates the concept in your mind and you understand and retain for longer.

For example, while learning about the important dates of a historical event, you can create a small table highlighting the event with its date, so that you can just have a look at the gist of the information while revising the chapter.

Stressing the importance of writing your own notes, Nehmat Mongia, a student of Modern School, Barakhamba who scored more than 95% in her board exams said, “I used to write and rewrite everything I studied. I did so not for studying or remembering before the exams, but to understand things and it was as if only I could teach myself. I did just that and made studying a fun activity.”

Moreover, the place of your study has a deep impact on your concentration and ability to grasp your concepts. You have different sites mentioning the amount of light, the things to keep at the study table and to study only on the chair while preparing for your exams.

But, do you know how your study table and chair must be inclined? Many students are seen either slipping down into the chair or bending their necks down for long hours at studying. Your study table and the chair must be so designed that your neck remains straight while studying and your feet touches the ground while sitting.

How is posture related with exam stress? Not directly, but a bad posture while studying tends to hurt your neck and back muscles making them stiff. To attain maximum concentration while studying, you not only need a healthy mind but, also a healthy body.

If you are sick or suffering from pain anywhere in the body, you won’t be able to concentrate on your studies and would panic with anxiety.

Significance of a healthy diet during exams

The significance of a healthy diet can’t be overstressed at this hour. Many students believe in spending hours at their study table to prepare for their exams and in an extreme state give up eating proper meals and indulge in eating only fruits. They hold the opinion that eating much will make them feel sleepy and disturb their study routine.

But, actually, they don’t realise that eating well during exams is more crucial than at any other time. Avoiding meals to prevent falling asleep afterwards is not the solution. You must prepare your study routine to take time out for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This not only provides you with necessary nutrition but relaxes your mind from the burden of studies.

Sleepiness after a meal is mostly encountered if you consume food products with high amounts of fat like chips, fried products and so on. Keep your meals healthy and devoid of transfat and sugar to avoid feeling drowsy. In case you feel lethargic after a meal, listen to some instrumental and lively music for few minutes before sitting down for your studies.

“My appetite is dead. I don’t feel like eating anything. If I eat something, I will vomit.” These are the excuses commonly heard by the students during their exams. It happens because they think more and worry more about their performance in exams.

As the saying goes, “Fools worry, and wise prepare”, so it’s obvious you don’t want to behave like a fool at this hour. Eating the right thing at the right time is the secret behind healthy body and mind. Not only nutrition but what you eat can help you cope with your exam stress.

All the more, you can make meal time a learning time too. Have a look at the vegetables cooked for your lunch and dinner and try to memorise the vitamins and minerals you receive from them. Learning in this manner is fun and doesn’t create a burden on you for memorising the facts.

“Fools worry, and wise prepare”, so it’s obvious you don’t want to behave like a fool at this hour.

Eat smaller and frequent meals and avoid large meals at this time, as they tend to make you drowsy. Green vegetables, fruits like strawberries, amla, oranges, tomatoes, and whole grain cereals like oats, barley, and whole wheat are a must in your diet regime. For the non-vegetarians, eggs and lean meat provide the necessary memory boosting nutrients.

Treat water as your best friend in the examination days. However, do not keep a water bottle or a plate of snacks near your study place. This ensures that you get up and take a minutes’ walk around the house whenever you feel thirsty or hungry in between; breaking away from the sedentary routine of studying and relaxing your mind every few hours.

Take in these words with full attention. Do not take tea, coffee or other caffeinated drinks at this stage. Many students take tea or coffee to help them stay awake till late in the night for their studies or to avoid sleepiness in between. But, such things do more harm than good.

Instead, if you feel sleepy, munch on some healthy snack like a vegetable sandwich or have a glass of water or take a walk outside in fresh air to refresh your mood and take a break from the study routine.

Do not compare yourself with your peers

Many students have a habit of discussing with their friends as to how many topics they have covered for the exam. There is nothing wrong with this custom till it keeps you motivated to prepare well for your exams.

However, if you start a comparison of yourself with your peers and look down upon yourself, the habit needs to be restricted. Every student has his own aptitude and pace of learning, even you have your own.

If you wish to discuss any doubt with your friends or plan an interactive quiz to check your knowledge, the conversation will be fruitful and rewarding for your learning and motivation. But, discussing and comparing yourself with others may have a negative impact on your confidence level.

If you feel that you are not confident enough and talking to your friends further demoralises you, stop indulging in such conversations before and during the exams. Even after completing the examination paper, do not discuss the answers with your peers. Be confident of your preparation and move ahead with any flaws you might discover therein.

Just remember, you are in competition with no one; just with yourself. If you find yourself better than yesterday, you achieve your goal. In fact, this trend of competition that has gripped our society today is more destructive than constructive for human minds.

Everybody is focusing on becoming better than the rest but no one focuses on being better than what they were yesterday; a notion that has led to a blind competition and stress in individuals. They never try to learn a new skill and be better equipped than yesterday, but wish to be ahead of others.

A scene in the Bollywood film 3 Idiots reminds us of this valuable theory of learning and not comparing with others. When Aamir khan was explaining the correct method of teaching to Boman Irani by using two useless words, he stressed the importance of learning and not paying attention to coming first or second in the class.

No one will pay attention to your class rank later in life, but how you perform today is what matters . And comparing yourself to others doesn’t make you learn, only increases your pressure and stress for the studies.

Do not underestimate yourself by comparing yourself with others. After all, it’s these differences that make us unique and beautiful. So, respect your differences with others and utilise them for your exam preparation.

Instead of comparing, leverage these differences in learning and propelling each other forward in exam preparations. For example, if you are good at algebra and your friend excels at vocabulary, you both can help each other with your respective weaker fields.

Pursue your hobbies even during exams

No fun, no chatting, and no shopping. This is the notion carried by most students during their exams. If not, it will be stressed by your parents; a big NO to everything. “Forget your mobile phones for few days, forget there is any cable connection in the house till your exams are over”, says your father.

Though some of these things prove to be distracting from your studies, but, giving them up completely is not advisable. You can’t sit glued to your chair for the whole day peeping into your textbooks; your mind needs to de-stress and relax in between, but the pressure from your parents doesn’t let you indulge in them.

However, it depends upon you how you use these mediums; only in moderation to relax your mind or become completely distracted from your studies. If you use them in moderation at particular times to break free from the sedentary routine of studying, no parents would pose an objection.

In fact, many parents encourage their children to engage in their hobbies or favourite pastime even during exams to help them de-stress their minds. As said before, exams are not punishing times, but, an opportunity to test your knowledge and know your strengths and weaknesses. So, why change your routine during the exams, why drift apart from your hobbies?

M. Gayathri, the All- India CBSE topper of the year 2015 pursued her hobbies even during the board exams as she revealed to a The Hindustan Times reporter. Talking about her relaxing tip, she added “Unlike others, I did not discontinue my hobbies during the exams. In fact, singing and painting helped me to de-stress during that time.”

What can be inferred from her experience is that stress is common and obvious during examination time. However, do not let stress overpower you, simply find ways to cope with it, just like Gayathri did by engaging herself in singing and painting.

Yet, another trend seen amongst students is planning for their exam preparation in advance. No doubt, we do advise to plan out a timetable for studying, exercises, meal time, and relaxation. But, how should you go about these plans is the main catch?

Do not plan your entire preparations for the month or a week at one go, but go about planning each day step by step. If you plan for the entire week or month, chances are high that you won’t be able to stick to them and get demotivated and stressed in return.

Contrastingly, planning for each day step by step keeps you motivated and rewards you with a sense of achievement at the end of the day. Indulge in giving yourself a treat when you accomplish your task every day.

Sukriti Gupta, the All-India CBSE topper of the last year doesn’t believe in excessive planning for the exams but taking one step at a time. She further advises other students preparing for their exams to follow NCERT books strictly, not fall into the trap of studying for 14 hours a day and not to expect any last minute miracles.

She further owes her success to the regular routine she followed, be it for her studies, diet regime or exercises.

There is no short-cut to success; hard work and consistency in your preparations is the only key.

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