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How to manage exam stress - Exam stress tips for students & parents by experts

Priyam Dave
Jun 15, 2022
All Grades

‘Hit this exam harder than you have ever done before.’

In this decade, education has become regarded as increasingly crucial for human development especially for adolescents. The academic performance of the student plays an important role in nourishing the generations which are the future leader and manpower of the country. However, the level of competition and running for a better future seems to be a rat race. Usually the academic performance of a child is evaluated by the marks obtained by them in the examination.

Examination in a school is a part of the academic cycle. Students need to appear for the exam in the school to get promoted to the next level, therefore it is obvious to feel some stress. If they do not get exam stress, they won't be able to motivate themselves. The exam stress can sharpen the concentration, performance and help to create the additional energy and momentum to study rather than doing something else. But, as it is quoted, excess of anything is dangerous.

What is exam stress?

As per the psychologists, the exam stress or test anxiety is a condition in which people experience extreme distress and anxiety. Exam stress is a kind of performance anxiety where the people become a bit conscious. The exam stress can become problematic when it interferes with the ability of a child to perform and achieve academic goals.

Biological studies say that in stressful situations such as before exams, the body releases adrenaline hormones. This hormone prepares the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response to a stressor. This response prepares you to fight with the situation or escape from it. In a lot of cases, adrenaline rush is a good thing, but for some people the symptoms of anxiety or exam stress becomes so excessive that it makes it difficult for them or even impossible to focus on the test.

Is exam stress normal?

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, every year almost 2,500 students commit suicide due to exam stress or failure in exam. In the last 7 years between 2014 to 2020, a total of 12,582 lives have been lost as a consequence of exam stress. Most of the students suffer from exam stress than they like to admit. There are so many students who sail through the exam stress by seeing it as an opportunity to, but they are not in majority.

Causes of exam stress

Exam stress can be caused by many different factors. Knowing these exam stress reasons can help students and parents identify the strategies to manage it. Causes of exam stress can be placed mainly in two categories: 

1. Lifestyle issues:

● Inadequate sleep

● Poor nutrition

● Stimulant use

● Insufficient exercise

2. Psychological factors:

● Feeling little or no control over the exam situation

● Negative thinking and self-criticism; For example: I am not smart enough; I will get a terrible grade; I won’t pass this exam; I can’t do this

● Irrational thinking about exams and outcomes

● Irrational beliefs, for example: If I will fail, my family and friends will lose respect for me

● Catastrophic predictions, for example: “I will fail no matter what I do - there is no point.”

● Irrational demands, for example: “I have to get at least an A or I am worthless.”

Other causes of exam stress

● Worry that they might fail

● Want to do really well

● Expect a certain result

● Find it hard what they are studying

● Competitiveness with others

● Unprepared for the exam

● Have no time to study for exam

● Underconfident for the exam

● Parental and peer pressure to score good marks

Signs of exam stress

Exam stress can be evident in various ways depending upon each individual and the type of exam students are preparing for. The symptoms of exam stress can vary considerably and range from mild to severe. Here are some of the symptoms witnessed in the students:

1. A feeling that I am unable to go through the exam preparation

2. Unable to think clearly and concentrate

3. Lack of motivation

4. Losing touch with friends and the activities you enjoy

5. Losing the appetite and overeating

6. Sleeping poorly and struggle to get out of bed

7. Mind goes blank during the test

8. Sweating, shaking, dry mouth and nausea

9. Feeling of hopelessness and being deficient

How to manage exam stress?

As written by Killinworth and Gilbert, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” As you can see, perceive things which are not happening in the present moment. Replacing the brain is not possible but how to manage it is. So here are the following tips on how to manage exam stress.

1. Explain the significance of exams - According to an interview of Dr. Nithya Poornima, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS Bengaluru, it is important to make the children understand what the exam stands for. She suggests that students should be taught that exams are meant to assess learning and consider it as a concept of learning. This whole process will lessen the level of exam stress.

2. Practice strategically - Having the correct information and skills to succeed is key to managing self-doubt and avoiding failure. So it is crucial for students to study well ahead of time. In a simpler way, Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist and an author suggests that the students need to create a perfect atmosphere for the examination while practicing. For example: If they are practicing for the Math exam, then they need to answer as if the actual exam is going on. 

3. Plan the study schedule and design the timetable - First and foremost, the students along with their parents/guardians are required to understand the entire syllabus and prepare a timetable accordingly. The timetable should be divided in equal proportion and manageable chunks, so that students do not find it as a burden. For example: If someone feels comfortable studying in the morning then plan your entire day accordingly. Also try to make a revision timetable.

4. Time management - As per wikipedia, time management is a process of planning and exercising conscious control of time on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency and productivity. According to most child psychologists, one of the core reasons for facing exam stress is lack of time management. In order to improve the time management skills to reduce exam stress, students need to make a timetable for the day and stick to it without procrastinating. The breaks of 10 minutes help them keep their concentration levels most effective.

5. Take proper diet and exercise regularly - Exercise can provide a remedy to handle exam stress. When the child exercises, the body releases endorphins hormones which will make them feel better automatically and they can perform well in their studies. This will clear their exam related stress and will focus on his exam preparation with renewed energy. Through exercise, the body also releases norepinephrine hormone which will help your child learn and remember concepts better for their exams.

6. Sleep well - According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), most adults need at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep a day. Sleep is a powerful stress reducer. Following a proper sleep routine calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, sharpens judgment and decision making skills. In the research it has been found that children looking at the screen an hour before going to bed face sleeplessness.

Exam stress pointers for parents:

● De-stress yourself first

Most child psychologists suggest that parents should de-stress themselves. It is crucial for parents to have their own stress-busters and do whatever makes them relax. Parents must start loving themselves so that they can take care of their child. 

● Be a support system for your children

Parents need to maintain trust among their children so that they can discuss everything with them. A support system is the best way to cope up with any difficulties in life, exams stress one of them. Parents should try to be a support system for all kinds of stresses or physiological or psychological stress. As much as parents would have tried to push their children to work hard, it will reduce their performance. Ask your child what kind of help they want and give them practical suggestions. Most of all, maintain a peaceful and calm atmosphere at home which will definitely reduce the exam stress. 

Parents should understand that children will not obey them but they will follow their actions. Parents and guardians should understand the fact that “the trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.” As parents, one should remember that exam season is a stressful time and students will face little amount of stress, no matter what. 

Children should always remember, “Exams are just a part of life, not life. You will get more and better opportunities. One exam can not decide your ability and future.”

Priyam Dave

A Master’s in Mass Communication and Journalism background, writing has always been Priyam’s forte and passion. For over 7 years now, he has been working at the forefront in the education beat wherein he covered every latest development that occurs in this field. He believes that writing is the best channel to enlighten the future and is a gateway to a deeper level of thought. He works as a PR and Content Writer at GIIS Ahmedabad. He is well-respected by colleagues for his passion for working and communication skills.

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