(Author: Dr Amit Kumar Gupta, MBBS, MD, MBA)
Oh! It’s exam time…
For most of us, school time has always been a fun except when it is exam time. Not just the students but their parents also tend to experience considerable stress during exam time. Many parents feel as if these are not their children’s exams but some kind of exams for themselves! In the modern world of high ambitions and neck-toneck competitions, a given result of annual school exams is treated to have significant bearing on a student’s academic future, social attire and many-a-times the direction of his/her further professional pursuits. Therefore, it is obvious that students as well as their parents and other family members may perceive school exams as a huge burden – both physically and mentally.
School exam stress is an inevitable part of student life that can be a tough nut to crack. If not tackled properly, an undue stress of school exams can be harmful. It may affect a student’s overall performance and sometimes lead to other complications. However, we can beat this stress easily if we want to do so. We can channelize the school exam stress into positive vibes and greater energy by following certain simple steps. Let’s understand how this can be done…
Change your and your child’s perception to school exams
Any stress is nothing but our body and mind’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It is only our perception – an event, which is exciting and pleasurable to one person, may be painfully stressful to another
If we look at the school exams as a challenge (positive stress), our bodies will react by releasing good chemicals into the blood, which will give us more energy and strength offering greater potential gain.
Also, devise an outlet for release of this extra energy and strength, which can be academic (such as revising what you have read earlier) or even non-academic (such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, listening to music, or simply chatting with family or a friend). Let your child spend some time in such activities that make hm/her feel happy and relaxed (but make it for short periods only, say 5-10 minutes).
Motivate your child to take the exams as a challenge and prepare strategically but don’t let him/her attach any emotions with future/probable outcome of the exams.
Watch your child for signs of exam stress
Recognition of school exam stress is the first step in learning how to deal with it. When anyone experience exam stress, his/her body and mind show the effects in the form of certain physical and mental manifestations to which we must pay attention. Some of them may include:
Time management. Help your child to plan well for the exams. It is very important to make a realistic study plan (with timetable for preparations, revisions, practice papers etc) and then adhere to such a plan. A good time management will help prevent any last-minute nervousness or panicky behaviour in your child. Since there is usually a gap of 1-2 days between two consecutive exam subjects, make your plan with an active involvement of your child in order to utilize such time optimally.
Give your child a balanced diet. Make sure your child eats well. Give him/her a nutritious diet that should also contain seasonal fruits and vegetables. A good diet will make your child feel good to prepare well and ease exam stress. Avoid too oily or fatty food items. High-caffeine items and junk foods should also be avoided. And obviously, prefer not to give your child any eatables from outside that could be unhygienic; after all you will never want your child to fall sick during school exam period!
Make sure your child sleeps well. See that your child gets adequate sleep (about 6-8 hours at night). It will improve his/her concentration and thus exam preparedness. Insufficient sleep can cause fatigue, anxiety and irritability. Ensure an ambient and peaceful environment at home so that your child can take a sound sleep and then wake up with fresh mood and greater energy.
Support your child to study. Know your own capacity and help your child in his/her studies. Provide a good ambience (such as a peaceful room and proper study table & chair) for preparation. Also, understand your child’s limitations and give more attention to those subjects in which your child needs more support. For this purpose, you may do such works as discussion on key study concepts, help in doing numericals, and listening to your child’s crammed answers as part of revision. Help your child in using mnemonics and utilizing other tactics for better cramming, understanding and memorizing important things for the exams.
Allow time for fun and relaxation. Provide your child with some time for relaxation and enjoyment also. Studying for a long stretch is less effective than doing it in intervals; so allow your child to take a break of 5-10 minutes after every 45-60 minutes of continuous study. During such breaks, facilitate your child to do some relaxation activities. During exam periods also, let your child play, watch TV, perform a hobby, or do physical exercise for about 30 minutes daily as it will keep him/her calm and stress-free. Other options may include meditation, yoga, prayers, listening to relaxing music, spending quality time with pets/nature etc.
Talk to your child. Allow your child to talk to you as a friend. Discuss and try to understand his/her concerns and provide appropriate support and guidance rather than scolding, criticizing or adding to the already existing pressure of exams. Such a good talk on regular basis will not only improve love and bonding between you and your child but also allay his/her exam fears. Talking to parents and other family members will improve your child’s confidence and reduce his/her exam stress.
Maintain balance at home. During exam periods, when your child is more involved in studies, he/she is likely to forget some other activities. It may lead to such situations as not taking adequate diet, keeping the room untidy, forgetting to do other household works etc. Stay calm and support your child on priority, even if it is at the cost of some compromise at your end. Don’t burden your child unnecessarily with trivial issues, family arguments and works that can be postponed. After all, you are making efforts to benefit your child and ease his/her exam stress.
Support and guidance of peers. Many-a-times, your child’s peers, friends and schoolteachers can also prove to be of great help when your child shares his/her concerns and worries. You may first talk to such peers who will then talk to your child in a positive and optimistic manner. Their support and guidance can thus lessen your child’s school exam stress.
Before the exams. Always support your child for the exams in a positive way. Before an exam, tell your child that you love him/her and will continue to do so irrespective of the exam results. Always emphasize that the life will remain beautiful for your child even if any exam does not go well. Your child needs a stress-free mind before and during exams so as to put in his/her best efforts. On the exam day, make sure that your child is ready on time and is not late.
On the exam days. Ensure that your child has taken adequate sleep and is refreshed. Make sure that he/she is ready on time and is not late for the exam. In case of exam being held physically at school/ centre, ensure that your child possesses his/her school ID or exam admit card and has all necessary exam logistics (such as pen, pencil, eraser, geometry box, colours etc). In case of exam being held online from home, ensure to provide an ambient environment with adequate internet connectivity, good light and no external disturbance from other persons, noise etc. Reassure your child and remind him/her to take the exam calmly and strategically. Your child should learn to do appropriate time allocations to various questions in the exam at the beginning. It is generally a good idea to attempt the easy questions first followed by the more difficult ones.
After the exams. Encourage your child to discuss his/her exam paper with you. During such a discussion, keep motivating your child. Don’t criticize him/her for any wrong answer to questions; rather, highlight your child’s positive acts and reassure how he/she can do further better. Always emphasize that the life will remain beautiful for your child even if any exam does not go well. Upon completion of the exams, you may like to give a treat to your child or even throw a party.
Consult an expert. In case there is a need, don’t hesitate to consult an expert for counselling and advice. If there seems to be too much of school exam stress either before or during the exams and your child is unable to cope, approach the right person such as a child counsellor, a psychologist, or a doctor who will help your child to beat the stress in a better way. Similarly, if your child has some negative/warning signs that are persistent even after the exams are over, it would be prudent to seek the expert’s advice. Nowadays, many schools, education boards and even governmental agencies provide help through their online portals and helpline numbers to counsel school children and their parents so as to beat school exam stress. When required, take help through these services also.
OK. What is the next step now?
Plan well for your child’s school exams and follow the plan to beat the exam stress. Happy school exams…
(The author Dr Amit Kumar Gupta is a medical specialist cum public health expert working as Senior Consultant – Medical Services & Quality at HCL Healthcare. He can be reached out at Amit_Gupta@hcl.com)