As exams draw near, both parents and students experience rising stress levels. Here are a few tips that will help you stay tension-free in this most stressful period.

As the exam countdown begins, students start experiencing stress, in many cases rising to alarming levels. Stress can manifest as headaches, stomach pain, vomiting, dysentery and even dizziness. Students with a previous history of (or vulnerable to) epilepsy can develop a seizure and those with migraine can develop migraine headaches due to severe stress.

Stress can also manifest as poor concentration, memory, attention, calculation and comprehension. Stress can affect their mood: this can make them cry, get irritable or angry or very unpleasant. A simple request to study can lead to a ruckus; losing many hours in the emotional outburst and spoiling moods for the rest of the day, if not a week! Students can experience stress due to academic and non-academic issues: preparation for the exams, confidence vs. self-doubt, pressure from people around, restrictions by parents and most importantly performance in the exams.

What you should do

A comprehensive preparation with multiple revisions is vital for outstanding performance. It may not be a good idea to study in the last minute for such major exams; but if someone is in such a situation then it could be prudent to study selectively depending on the time available, than to exhaust oneself with the entire portion.

The effect of good preparation is high confidence levels. The reverse is also true. Many students, despite preparing well, will report poor confidence levels. Such students must develop a habit of basing their judgment on a test, results of model exams or ability to recite answers. Arbitrarily developing opinions about how well they have studied can have an adverse effect on their confidence and consequently performance.

Some teachers have infamous ways of motivating students: they give lower marks than the student deserves, the logic being the student only then will not develop overconfidence and continue to study well. It would be better to have a realistic self-evaluation based on their past performance and present efforts.

Tips for parents

Parents, teachers, siblings, friends, relatives, neighbours, visitors and even casual acquaintances advise the students on the need to score high marks. The overall focus is to make the student score as much as possible; preferably above 95 per cent, being oblivious to both the capacity and previous performances! If a student is already stressed out, these external pressures can become overwhelming. This can affect the student's motivation and ability to study, so do not over-advise children on the need to study.

If a student is found not studying during the exams, what they require is not elaborate advice but assistance and supervision. A parent or sibling may have to be physically present, give them selected portion to study within a time period and then make them write the answers after 24 hours, which will show if they have retained what they learnt.

Some parents do not allow their children to have adequate sleep; they expect them to wake up in the early hours and study. The student is more likely to waste time sleeping over an open book than learning constructively. Without sufficient rest, the brain's learning centres will not be activated. So a lot of time will be spent learning very little. If a student goes without sufficient sleep, there is a high risk of going totally blank in the examination hall.

Allot time carefully

Parents impose restrictions on television, telephones, movies, friends, social network sites. Allotting time for study and recreation is a better idea than totally denying. Frame a schedule and see it is kept. This will enable the child to maintain time discipline and also know that during his study time he would be better off studying.

Exams are held to evaluate the knowledge of the students in various subjects. Depending on their ability to score marks they will be eligible for various opportunities. However high or low the marks are there are plenty of opportunities in this world for everyone. It is very important to be aware that exams are not a life and death situation. Scoring little less or failing does not mean the end; a few compromises need to be made to move on in life.

Sit, Relax, Write and Enjoy

Sit: Get seated comfortably. Organise your pen, pencil, marker, eraser etc.

Relax: Read through the question paper a couple of times; understand the question clearly. Do not worry about knowing or not knowing the answers.

Write: As the answers come to your mind, even if you do not remember everything, you can put together an answer based on your knowledge.

Enjoy: Writing an exam is a life time event, enjoy every moment of it. Naturally the best in you will come out.

Useful techniques

Preparation: Read and understand, memorise, recall by writing a self-test after 24 hours, read the missing points and then revise repeatedly.

Mood: Do not wait to get into a mood to study, build it up by focussing on how much you want to score and how much you need to study.

Confidence: Have an objective way of developing confidence.

Sleep: Very important to sleep well to feel fresh to study and to write the exams.

Memory: Do not check your memory by arbitrarily recalling some answer. With model tests, class tests and revisions it is unlikely you will forget everything.

Coping with stress

Identify stressful situations and develop strategies to overcome it.

Encourage yourself; do not look for encouragement from outside. Say to yourself ‘I can recall all that I read', ‘I will do very well in the exams' and ‘I can score high marks'.

Utilise study time to study and avoid unnecessary conflicts with parents.

Do not think of study as drudgery or be tense, enjoy the preparation process and challenges of taking the exam.

The writer is a Chennai-based Cognitive Psychotherapist. Email: rsam_67@yahoo.co.uk

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012