Stress is universal and occurs at different points in our life.
Stress can be related to past circumstances, the current situation in one’s life and resilience skills among others.
It can cause serious health issues. Therefore, understanding the impact of stress — and how to create healthier minds with positive outcomes on learning — is a key area which schools must focus.
High levels of anxiety and stress among students have become routine, due to rising competition and the race for coveted aims.
Students are often under stress with questions like: “Did I study enough for this test?” “Won’t my friends do better than me?” “If I don’t get an A now, I may not do well on the next exam, and will I then be able to get into a good college?”
A close fact finding analysis on exam stress may bring to the surface many reasons, but the most prominent among these are educational and occupational consequences of exams, peer pressure on the basis of grades or percentage of marks, judgement of performance by friends, parents, relatives and neighbours, disappointing expectations of rank-obsessed schools and teachers
These thoughts aren’t always just passing worries, in fact, they become deep rooted and lead to depression in some children.
Here, school counsellors should focus on fostering a school culture that embraces a sense of balance and self-regulatory skills.
Some of the common factors that can be linked to high stress levels in children are:
• Some students are generally stressed, a bit of a worrier
• Being poorly prepared for examinations
• Poor performance in the previous examinations
• Being a perfectionist — anything less than an A is a failure.
It is human nature to have some pressure before examinations, but Board exams can create extra panic due to several psychological forces and thought processes working on the minds of students.
If not taken care of, sometimes the pressure gets translated into anxiety, leading to nervousness.
Anxiety and nervousness together get translated into exam stress leading to depression.
Exams! OMG! The very first word in this sentence even in its abbreviated form may send anyone quaking in his boots and sets one’s alarm bells ringing.
Despite a lot of exam preparations at school or home, students come under the grip of exam stress and fall into severe physical, mental and psychosis disorders that unfortunately sometimes lead them to take even an extreme step of ending life.
A close fact finding analysis on exam stress may bring to the surface many reasons, but the most prominent among these are educational and occupational consequences of exams, peer pressure on the basis of grades or percentage of marks, judgement of performance by friends, parents, relatives and neighbours, disappointing expectations of rank-obsessed schools and teachers.
Unrealistic expectations blended with lack of regular concentration and consistent behaviour create circumstances that exert pressure of the performance on students.
This pressure plays havoc during period of exams in general and board exams in particular. The performance pressure can develop exam stress, fear of failure and anxiety which in turn results in long term impact.
Examinations are a part and parcel of a student’s life.
Since these situations cannot be avoided, certainly the students have to prepare themselves to face the exam with confidence and untimely come out winners.
Some stress is natural and is considered to be effective and helpful as it leads to alertness and consistent behaviour.
Stress during exam times has its roots in the poor academic progression of students, sometimes resulting from lack of routine in their studies, absent mindedness of the learners during teaching-learning sessions, lack of planned practice and revisions, prolonged illness, parental laxity, absenteeism, unplanned school systems etc.
* I try to concentrate, but I soon find myself thinking about something else.
* It is difficult for me to focus on books when I study.
* My mind keeps going from one thought to another.
* I cannot finish what I start doing.
* I am unable to focus on one thing for more than a few seconds.
* I often procrastinate, because I cannot focus for long, and then I discontinue what I am doing.
These are common conflicts most children face and the common thread running through all these statements is the lack of concentration and the inability to focus the mind on any one thing at a time.
With examinations around the corner, every student’s knowledge and year-round learning is put to test.
Some of the following tips can help tide over the pressure that examinations bring.
Exam preparation strategies:
As examination schemes and schedules are already out, here are some workable strategies that may help students.
Regular classroom attendance:
Classroom knowledge is interactive and important. Often, teachers mention important topics and concepts that may come in handy during class tests and exams. No amount of reading or self-study can match up to the level of interactive study that is the distinct feature of classroom sessions.
Set your timing right:
Every individual learner has a distinct study and learning style. Choose morning, afternoon or evening, when you work best. Don’t sit with your books the whole day but adhere to timing when you are most focused, alert and productive. Avoid going on unhealthy and woozy study drives. Prefer quality timing to quantity sit outs.
Prepare, practice and prove your Learning:
‘The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today’ wrote Elbert Hubbard an American writer, publisher, artist and philosopher. Most of the students under exam stress will have a history of not preparing well in advance. After each preparatory session one must jot down the points learnt and verify; asking yourself questions. Allocate adequate time for each subject.
Eating and sleeping:
The brain needs energy and rest. Therefore, it is advised to eat little but more frequently. Eat something every 3 hours as the brain requires enough glucose to concentrate. Also drink plenty of water. One must also get 6 to 7 hours of sleep for the brain to function to its full potential.
Taking study breaks:
Divide your days in three periods of 150 minutes each and revise for two out of the three. Keep your leisure time balanced well, walking or jogging can help the body and the brain to remain active. Yoga and meditation can also help students to remain alert and fresh during these stressful days. After all, meditation turns a wandering mind into a wondering mind!
Test your revision work:
The last few months before the examination must be spent in revision focusing on every subject. Frame a personal timetable as per your own requirements.
While taking tests, teachers at school, a friend or a peer learner may help your testing. At home parents can be engaged in the tests. Besides, self-testing repeatedly in the written form can pace up one’s learning stability. Human brain remembers associated memories very well therefore revising will be more productive than mere cramming. Testing at increasing intervals enhances and boosts up confidence and lowers stress and anxiety levels. For example, test yourself 15 minutes after revising a topic, test again the next day before taking up the next topic, then three days later and one week later.
Mind your mnemonics:
One of the most common drawbacks among children, which enhances exam stress, is mugging up without understanding the concept or idea. It is obvious that facts and formulae, lengthy information and details and dates need more memory use and rote learning.
For example in Social Sciences it may be difficult to remember names of planets in the order of their position in the universe. But mnemonic acronym My Very Educated Mom Just Served Us Nuts (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) makes it easy to remember. Mnemonics are personally invented cues that each child can develop to boost memory.
Review your past performance:
One must be realistic. If the scores have been poor, remember that the preparations were inadequate. Boost yourself by reassuring better scores next time. This realistic assumption will assist your brain and can reduce anxiety.
Accept what you expect:
It is an accepted fact that a certain amount of stress plays functional role in our routine as it keeps us alert, and focused. Students undergoing examination must be taught to assert balance between their limitations and expectations. Parents and teachers must assess how much the children can do.
Teacher is the best counsellor:
During exam times a good teacher can be a bridge over troubled waters. Therefore, every subject teacher must organise at least two or three counselling sessions and this will most certainly will help to get rid of exam stress. While counselling the students it is important to talk about how to plan exam preparation and revision. Besides, issues like healthy living, personal health and hygiene, meditation, morning walk need to be discussed.
At the end of it all, if you still feel stressed do something about it now. Talk to a friend, a tutor, or see one of the psychologists who can help you lower your anxiety so that you can perform to your best. Do not let stress cripple your hard work of the long year gone by.
Best Of Luck!
—Geeta Karunakaran is the Principal of Delhi Private School, Ras Al Khaimah.