Dr. Samir Parikh, MBBS, DPM, MD (PSY)
Director-Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences
Chairperson- Fortis National Mental Health Council
Fortis National Mental Health Program
Separating exams from words like stress, tension, worries and pressures seems almost impossible. Be it when the exams are approaching, ongoing or when awaiting the exam results. Stress related to studies is the result of an interaction between various factors, including both the focus on improving studying skills, as well as learning to cope with external factors associated with exam times. This interplay is inevitable for not just school or college examinations, but even more so for the various competitive and entrance examinations which are gaining increasing popularity these days.Besides the academic workloads, additional stressors could stem from the worry of their parents, the expectations of the teachers, the comparison and competition with their peers, or the nagging from their tutors! It is indeed an alarming fact to note the increasing prevalence of suicidal attempts amongst the youth of India. And it is not a surprise to witness such incidents during the exam season, be it when the exams are approaching or even when the results are expected or declared.
One of the basic necessities for all students to succeed in the examination system of today is to be equipped with certain study tactics to excel every exam without breaking into too much of a sweat. In fact, in addition to effective studying practices, it is also necessary for them to be able to cope with the stressors. Preparing for an examination does not necessarily need to be a period of stress. It is not possible for students to escape the hurdle of examinations, no matter how much ever they might wish to do so. However, a lot depends upon their perception and attitude towards these exams, and the studying skills and strategies employed by them for the same.
Relieving Stress during Studies and Exams
Yes, it is possible. While it is essential for students to be empowered with the skills and strategies to inculcate effective studying practices, it is also necessary for them to be able to cope with not just the academic demands, but also with the social, institutional as well as personal demands related to their studies.
Adopt healthy lifestyle choices. It is a myth that caffeine, nicotine, or any other substance, can help improve your concentration during exams as well as studying. On the contrary, they are likely to increase your anxiety levels, thereby making you feel more stressed! Therefore, pay attention to your health, and focus on maintaining a regular and healthy lifestyle.
Sleep well. Contrary to the popular saying, you need not burn the midnight lamp to study before an exam. Instead, plan your studies, and ensure that you get an adequate sleep, especially before the examination.
Evaluate your efforts, not your results. Remember to focus not on the final grades, but also to pay attention to the effort you put in behind the exam. Even if the results do not seem to be proportionate to your results, do keep in mind the influence of various external factors, and therefore make a realistic evaluation of your efforts.
An exam is not the end of your life. Exams are just a small part of your entire life span, which are not the only deciding factors of your life ahead. They are simply a stepping stone for you, and the success of your life does not depend on your performance in an exam, but on how you cope with the various challenges of life.
Focus on own performance and fight peer pressure. Competing with your peers might help motivate you at times. However, it is important to avoid making comparisons between your work and anyone else’s. Instead, you should work towards fulfilling your own expectations from yourself.
Tips to relieve stress on the day of the exam. The morning of an exam is not the time to have frantic last minute revisions, which would only lead to confusion and stress. You should talk to your friends about everything but studies! Even after the exam, avoid discussing the question paper. Worrying about the previous paper will not help you prepare for the next one. Instead give yourself a break before you start focusing on the next exam.
Be effective. Instead of sitting at your books for longer periods of time without much success, it is advisable to study for around 40-45 minutes at a time, ensuring that you utilize each of those minutes fruitfully.
Avoid multitasking. It is important to remember that multitasking does not actually save time and energy, but instead makes it more difficult to retain the information, as the human ability to process information simultaneously reduces the efficiency, while at the same time gives us less opportunity to rehearse the information.
Take regular breaks. You should take regular breaks between your studying hours, for around 5-10 minutes each. Remember, these breaks are not inflexibly stretchable!
Plan the break. While breaks are supposed to be times for you to recuperate and do whatever you want, it is also important to keep in mind what you should and should not do in your break times! Avoid reading, TV or computers, as they involve the same part of the brain involved in studying, and hence would not be very refreshing. Instead, prefer to listen to some music, have some light snacks, or go for a short walk.
Use time-saving tactics. As most of the times the same topic needs to be read and revised more than once, it would be very beneficial if you would highlight specific words or phrases, that would help you save time when you reread or revise the same topic again. Moreover, highlighting has been found to be more effective than underlining as it helps you form visual memories of the highlighted words standing out.
Be open to seeking help. Remember, it is normal to feel anxious during exams. But you must talk about the way you feel. You could share your feelings with your friends, your parents, teachers or a professional. If you find it difficult to cope, remember there are always people around who can help you.