March 24, 2022
Come March, it's high-stress time! Almost like curfew time! A formidable gloom surrounds everyone. I am not talking about only school students, but parents, teachers and the whole society in general.
As a clinician, I have observed a significant drop in the outpatients, admissions to hospitals fall drastically. Unless a dire emergency, people probably avoid going out of the house altogether. Cable and internet connections are disconnected and gadget use is resented by seniors vehemently. Roads appear to have shed half their traffic and malls almost look empty. Shopkeepers are seen reading newspapers page to page and business, in general, appears to have slowed down. No good movies release during this period. Hotels and resorts give unbelievable discounts in vain to attract customers.
Why is this period so feared?
Why is exam phobia so universal?
As a psychiatrist, I look at it with both a societal and a personal angle. We Indians are very academically inclined. Academic success is considered the benchmark of a student’s capacity. More marks=smarter student. Parents and mostly mothers, consider the ability of their child to fetch good marks as their personal achievement. If the child does badly they take it as their own failure. This leads to an increased sense of personal responsibility and hence constant 'nagging ' to study and get 'good marks'. God forbid if it is a single mother or in condition where father is staying abroad for work! I have had mothers present with anxiety mainly caused by the child's academic problem. In such situations they feel even more responsible and blamed for, if the child does not fit in. Also teachers subconsciously differentiate between academic achievers and non- achievers. It's easy for a 'good student' to be forgiven than a 'bad student '. Also in social gatherings, marks are compared especially in 10th and 12th grade causing even more anxiety among parents and students alike. The other angle to look at this exam period phobia is the personal angle. Students who are inherently anxious get more worked up during this period. Some report going blank during exam due to extreme anxiety. Then there is this first ranker who has this constant tension to maintain his position.
An opposite variety is the extremely casual student who studies only when the exams are dangerously close. They induce anxiety in their parents! Often they are brought in with defiant behaviour, gadget overuse, drug abuse and violence, to the psychiatrist. Here parental anxiety needs to be addressed simultaneously. Parents make the child even more defiant by their repetitive insistence to study. I thought I would share some of my thoughts with the exam goers. What can be done to make this period more tolerable for you?
1. Remember it's an exam and not your entire life! Like many exams, you have given earlier and like many much more you are yet to give in the future, it's just an exam. Why lose your peace of mind on something which is so not unique and is commonly encountered?
2. Your worth is not determined by this exams outcome! How can the result of one exam deduct your value? Isn't it silly to assume that your loved ones will like you less if you fail an exam? Even silly to believe that they will love you more if you top the exam.
3. This exam does not decide your overall success and failure in life! How can it possibly? Academic success is only a minor contributor in what makes you click. Making best of opportunities, soft skills, social skills, networking do much more than marks.
4. There is always a second chance! There is nothing shameful in passing in second attempt. Rome was not built in one day. When you are doing well in life, no one will remind you that you had 10 back papers during your graduation time. So take it easy. Don't punish yourself with guilt-laden thoughts.
5. Remember that if everyone is chasing you to study more and perform well, it is their problem! Parents have been tuned to make you do what they think is right. Teachers are also bound by duty to make you excel. Their job demands that. Don't take their critical comments personally and to your heart.
All said and done, please do not assume that become aimless, goalless and unmotivated is what is expected of you as a student. In every stage of life we are expected to fulfil certain duties and perform certain roles. To enjoy that stage well, carrying these will give you true joy.
Here are few more tips to help you with your exams:
• Be motivated and driven during your student life.
• Manage your time well.
• Self-regulate your gadget use. Don't compel your parents to do so.
• Become truly independent.
• Don't forget to rest well, do physical exercise, relax and unwind from time to time and eat right.
• Do not abuse your body with drug use and risky practices. Be good to yourself during exams.
• Make best use of your preparedness. Remember exams are designed to assess what you know and not what you don't.
• Familiarise yourself with the exam pattern. Practice writing a mock exam and time yourself.
• While writing an exam, make sure you are well rested. Being sleep deprived before the exam will reduce your performance. Attempt questions you know well first. Don't forget to number the answers.
• Don't panic if you see a tough paper. Practice deep breathing technique to relax.
• Time your paper.
• Read again before submitting the answers sheet. You will be surprised correcting so many silly mistakes.
"Strive for progress, not perfection.” Be satisfied with your efforts and attempt. Do your duty and don't worry about the outcome. Wishing all students great success and happiness this exam season!