Board Exams 2023: Five ways to tackle exam stress
Board Exams 2023: The onset of the examination season sets off a panic button for students, parents and teachers alike.
Board Exams 2023: A recent survey by NCERT on school students’ mental health found that 81% of students in classes 9 to 12 suffer from anxiety due to studies, exams and results.
The onset of the examination season sets off a panic button for students, parents and teachers alike.
Common extreme reactions include banning mobile phones and television, restricting play hours, and curtailing student socialisation. A sudden moratorium on such activities is often counterproductive. Rather than improving their study cycle, it could manifest in many psycho-physical anxieties, including sleep disorders, headaches, nausea, and sweating, among others.
Parental pressure, peer pressure, and high self-expectation contribute to exam stress. Our education system, which relies heavily on textbook-oriented teaching methods, rote memorisation, degree-driven examinations and score-based job procurements, aggravates the situation further.
While stress can act as a catalyst to perform well under specific circumstances, it is necessary to understand what the optimum level of stress is and how to prevent or manage overstressing students. Thankfully there are several scientific methods to manage exam-related stress.
First, research studies indicate that dopamine (the feel-good hormone) is necessary to accentuate memory, motivation, attention spans, and learning. Our brain is hardwired to seek out behaviour that releases dopamine in our reward system. Connecting learning that gives instant gratification, rewards, feedback, or recognition in any form, keeps one high in dopamine. Getting enough sleep, exercising, listening to calm music, meditation, and adopting play way methods to learn are research-backed strategies to boost dopamine levels. In today’s scenario, being active on social media and allowing oneself to scroll through the mobile phone as a reward after completing one challenging chapter of physics can also trigger dopamine. So, why keep children away from all of this as soon as the exam approaches? Let the students pair up such high dopamine activities with studies; this can help the students stay motivated and attentive, ultimately leading to higher retention.
Second, in an era where the idea of being lifelong learners and imbibing 21 st -century skills is gaining prominence, the question of ’How to Learn’ becomes much more important than’What to Learn’. Empowering learners with learning-to-learn techniques gives them the ability to pursue and persist in learning. These techniques enable them to be aware of their individual learning processes and needs, identify available opportunities, and overcome learning obstacles efficiently. For instance, Distributed Practice is a learning strategy that includes breaking up a learning unit/session into several short sessions over a more extended period and spacing or alternating each short session with other subjects. After a gap, the learning of the last session is retrieved, and the process is repeated. Practice testing, self-explanation, elaborative interrogation, and retrieval practice are a few research-backed strategies that everyone should practice throughout the year to enjoy learning with higher engagement and retention.
Third, a stepping stone to time management is mind management. While individual tasks may not be difficult to accomplish, triggering the mindset to execute them often presents a challenge. To prepare their mind effectively for learning, students first learn about the task, let it sink in, and prepare a roadmap to execute it. Further, there are various time management techniques to support children in planning to execute the task. An example is the Pomodoro technique, which includes picking up any task, setting up a timer of 25 minutes, working on the task until the time is up, taking a 5-minute break and after every 4 Pomodoro, taking an extended break of 15-30 minutes.
Fourth, students should be encouraged to meditate, perform deep breathing exercises, and get adequate sleep to improve their focus. These activities reduce the cortisol (stress hormone) levels and help quiet the distracting thoughts that keep the mind buzzing. Listening to particular sounds like white noise, pink noise, and binaural rhythm in spurts of 45 minutes can activate the brain for better focus, alertness, and cognition.
Finally, eating right, especially during exams, is essential. Food high in magnesium and tyrosine (amino acid) should be preferred. These are the building blocks for dopamine production. Foods such as chicken, almonds, apples, avocados, bananas, beets, chocolate, green leafy vegetables, green tea, lima beans (Sem/Vaal), oatmeal, oranges, peas, sesame and pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, turmeric, watermelon, among many more are known to increase dopamine. Therefore, eating such foods while a child studies can make them feel good because dopamine is doing its magic at the backend.
Apart from all these hacks, parental intervention is indispensable to prevent stress from becoming serious mental trauma. One should always keep in mind that intelligence and performance in the examination are two different things. The foremost thing parents and teachers should be mindful of is adopting a strict no policy for any comparison with peers, overburdening the child for good performance, and being verbally or physically abusive. It is high time parents give a break to the age-old, archaic, and traditional perception about education and jobs and give their children a new space to grow. Parents should teach their children to work hard, chase their passions, and fulfil their dreams in their chosen fields.
(Author RCM Reddy is MD & CEO, Schoolnet India, Co-author Dr Karnica Vyas is Digital Learning Officer, Schoolnet India. Views expressed here are personal.)