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Cracking the boards: Release the exam pressure, take a break between studies

A survey by Fortis Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences of over 4,100 students says most couldn’t follow their timetable and felt pressure from parents during exams added to stress.

delhi Updated: Mar 03, 2017 20:54 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Exams,Board Exams,Anxiety
A survey by Fortis Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences of over 4,100 students says most couldn’t follow their timetable and felt pressure from parents during exams added to stress.(Hindustan Times)

Two in three students believe that exams are not a true test of their knowledge and more than four in five say marks do not define their true potential, yet Board exams continue to find place among mega stressors like death and taxes in India.

Mind-wrecking pressure and anxiety stalk students for months leading up to exams, with overtly-concerned parents and well-wishers asking you not stress adding to the pressure.

Close to 90% students said their parents interfered with studies and 86% said parents put too much pressure on them to do well, showed a survey of more than 4,100 students from a dozen cities in India — Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Jaipur, Udaipur, Amritsar, Haridwar, Mathura, Karnal, Rohtak and Meerut.

Read: Class 12 Board exams: Mathematics is not as terrifying as you think it is

The study, done by Fortis Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences and shared exclusively with HT, said less than half of the students surveyed said they did not do as well as they expected despite putting in a lot of work.

Tiredness, restlessness, difficulty relaxing, headache, stomach distress, including diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, muscle pain, body ache, rapid heartbeat, sleeplessness, sleeping too much, frequent infections, irritability, quick to anger, frustration, moodiness
  • Dr Nand Kumar, professor of psychiatry at the AIIMS, suggests, train your brain for exam by sitting for at least two mock exams at home, where you must simulate exam conditions to the T — get up, have breakfast, change into your uniform and finish an exam in the requisite time
  • Take the exam at a desk in a closed room without an AC or a smartphone and ensure there are no interruptions. "Mock exams at school are not the same because the surroundings are familiar, you need to be out of your comfort zone," says Dr Kumar


“I study through the year but as we near the exam dates, my mind stops working and I can’t concentrate on anything,” said Shamista Kapuria, a class 12 student from Delhi Public School, who is losing sleep worrying about forgetting what she worked hard to learn.

She’s not alone. Close to one in five students surveyed said they have blacked out while writing an exam, which psychiatrists say is a sign of high anxiety.

Read: Class 12 Boards: Here’s how you can boost your English scores

“It’s normal to feel anxious during exams and a moderate amount of stress is good as it boosts performance and helps you do your best. But if the pressure gets too much, performance declines and if it’s too little, it leads to underperformance,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, that runs a free helpline for students.

Venting, or talking about what you’re going through, is the most effective way to beat stress. “If you find it difficult to cope, share your feelings with friends, parents, teachers or a professional counsellor to relieve the pressure,” says Dr Parikh.

Boosting concentration

“Set realistic targets, four hours of study without a break is not more effective than an hour with a 15-minute break,” says Dr Nand Kumar, professor of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “Research shows that human brain can only effectively concentrate for up to 45 minutes, after which its capacity to stay alert absorb information falls sharply. My clinical practice has shown that it has decreased further to 15-20 minutes,” Dr Kumar says.

In psychology, the phenomenon is defined as ‘vigilance decrement’, which is marked by inattention and distraction from the task at hand. Plan breaks into your revision schedule by splitting the day into hour-long chunks that give you a 10-15 minutes break before you begin again. “Chatting on FB or Snapchat is not the solution, you need to disengage the brain from information by doing something completely different — such as listening to music, singing, sketching, watching a show, playing with your pet, talking to a friend, dancing or some other physical activity,” says Dr Parikh.

Unlike a phone call, screen devices use the same visual-neuromuscular coordination — eyes, posture, brain and hands — pathways as studying, which add to fatigue instead of lowering it.

“Most students anyway use laptops and phones as a study tools, and once they start using them, they get distracted by social media and text notifications, which interfere with concentration” says Dr Kumar. If you can’t do without your smartphone, take a short gadget break every hour.

First Published: Feb 27, 2017 12:40 IST