As March 1 draws near for the Class 12 board examinations tension among the students is mounting. The best way to help an already overwrought student get over last-minute panic would be to crack light jokes and insist on breaks between studies for some recreation, say education counsellors.
"The average concentration span of a child is not beyond 35-45 minutes. Children should be allowed breaks of 10-15 minutes after such time to go for a walk, listen to music or read something light. This will freshen the mind and make it more receptive to absorbing more," says Ruchi Kapoor, a counsellor with Sardar Patel Vidyalaya.
"Continuous study for long hours does not help. Parental stress reflects more on the child. Children call up more these days with statements like 'I'm not able to concentrate. I had a fight with my parents. They feel I should study for three hours without getting up. I just can't do it'," said Kapoor.
"A student should be allowed to take breathers in between study. After that they are able to start all over again."
Around 1.2 million students are taking the Class 12 and Class 10 exams this year conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
For parent Sriram Gupta, whose daughter is appearing for the Class 12 boards, the best way to lighten the tension is to crack light jokes and make the child laugh.
"I find this works wonders with the child. Nothing helps more than a good laugh. I also tell my daughter not to worry and take it as it comes. When she took her Class 10 boards I would joke with her and her friends at the school gate just before the exams. All of them would have a hearty laugh and go to the exam hall smiling. This, I feel, helps children fare better," said Gupta.
But jokes apart, Gupta has been seriously helping his child with overseeing her handwriting, spellings and also the time she takes to answer questions during writing practice at home.
"I try to ensure that her handwriting is neat and legible because it would be frustrating for any examiner to read illegible answer sheets, which would result in less marks. I have also told her to take her time and read the question paper thoroughly once over and understand the questions rather than jump to writing straightaway. This would help the child approach the question paper with a cooler head."
According to Swati Kumar Mohan, counsellor with G.D. Goenka School, some anxiety is "normal" before the board exams.
"Children should take the help of a counsellor in case they feel panicky. They should also not try learning new things just before the exams. The last moment should be reserved for revising and consolidating what has been learnt.
"One thing I find among many students is that they stop all recreational activities just before the board exams. They should balance study time with recreation, like going for walks. They should also take proper rest and sleep for seven-eight hours. This is necessary for recall," she said.
While many students would be only studying and saying a firm 'no' to recreation with just a few days to go, S. Venkatesh still goes to play football every evening, watches a little television and reads.
"When I take breaks, I am able to concentrate better. I don't feel any panic, but a little nervousness. I have been working consistently, and I think I can do it," said Venkatesh, a Father Agnel School student.
"In fact, I just went for a class friend's birthday party. My friends are cool about the exam, but I do get to hear about children in some other schools who are getting panic attacks and feel they will flunk the exams," he said.
According to Ruchi Kapoor, if a student gets panicky before the exams and says: "I don't want to take the board exams. I don't feel I have prepared well and can I repeat?" then the parents and the school should together talk to the child.
"Many parents refuse to listen to such pleadings by their children. They insist that the child should go ahead and give it a try. This could lead to a conflict and a grave situation later."
"We call the parents in such a situation and also see the preparation of the child before suggesting anything. If the child is giving a genuine warning signal, then it should be taken into cognisance. It all depends on case to case. Sometimes it is an impulsive panic reaction by a child who has studied well. The most important thing is to sit and talk to the child. It would help the child overcome his or her negative coping skills," she said.
Counsellor Mohan has some more advice for the young students: avoid caffeine drinks like coffee, tea and colas.
"In case the child is in a habit of taking such drinks, then they should take less because caffeine gives a sudden high, a sudden alertness, but it soon fades away. The dip then is quite a bit. The sudden loss of energy after the effect of the drink wears away makes the child miserable."
Take fresh fruit juices instead and lots of vegetables and green leafy veggies too. "During exam time, more effort is required. The brain feels depleted. Vegetables and fruits give energy and help the mental effort and concentration level," she said.
Bhuvaneshwari, the mother of Venkatesh, doesn't nag her child to study. "I try and create a light atmosphere in the house. I don't go after him to study. The child is under stress anyway, and one should not add to it."
So the millions of students taking the board 10 exams this year can take heart - a few breaks between studies are useful and jokes would be a great help!