Don?t give in to exam-related stress, learn to tackle it
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Don?t give in to exam-related stress, learn to tackle it

The most important life skill that students can learn from the entire examination process is about stress itself, writes Soni Sangwan

india Updated: Jan 12, 2004 00:15 IST
Freehand | Soni Sangwan
Freehand | Soni Sangwan

Anybody could be forgiven for expecting a curfew-like situation in the home of a school principal whose son was taking the Board exams. And anyone would expect a principal to enforce discipline at home as he or she would do in a classroom.

But the story in Jyoti Bose's home is different. Bose is the principal of Springdales School and though her son is preparing to take his class XII Board exams in March, there is no curfew in her house. Her son is going about his exam preparations without the attendant stress and anxiety that other students might be facing.

Bose's secret, she confides, is the very normalcy of her son's routine. If he wants to strum his guitar, he does so, if he wants to listen to music he does so. The only condition is that when he studies, he should concentrate fully. She feels that stress levels depend largely on the hype that is created in the home. Her advice to parents reflects her efforts in her own home: Retain as normal an environment as you can.

But everyone is not so lucky as to have such a strong support system in place. No wonder then that the exam helplines are jammed with calls from desperately anxious students who want a quick-fix solution to their exam phobia. The solution that several seem to have found lies in the Happy Pills--the various anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication that is easily available over the counter in the city. Psychologist Aroon Broota reports an attitude where fear of consequences like addiction is non-existent and the only concern is the instantaneous happy feeling.

Perhaps it is the anonymity of a helpline that draws these confessions from students, because several schools seem unaware of the trend, or are unwilling to acknowledge it. Dr Jitender Nagpal, who has been running Expressions, a school-based programme for adolescent mental health for several years, explains that it is perhaps because of this attitude of denial in the schools that the stress levels become unmanageable, driving students to the brink where they either seek professional help or get into substance abuse.

Different schools have varying approaches to exam stress. While Lata Vaidyanathan of Modern School, Barakhamba Road, does not see too many stressed out students, she feels that it is the high achievers who are pushing themselves beyond the limit.

Bharti Sharma of Amity International School, Saket, who is also a counsellor on an exam helpline, maintains that the best way to keep stress away is to be regular in your work, set realistic goals and always have a plan B. Since it is ingrained into the minds of the students that the class XII exam is the make or break point of their life, they should also be guided towards having more than one option. In case, the result is not up to the mark to say get into a top Delhi college or a professional course, have a second choice ready.

In St. Thomas, principal C. Manoharan not only counsels students, but also parents. Her tip is to have a well-planned timetable that also gives you time to relax, get some exercise and refresh yourself.

Dr Nagpal suggests a need to harness the stress and use it positively to push students to achieve their goals, while maintaining a balance. On Thursday, a booklet prepared under the Expressions banner, will be sent out to 3,000 students on the verge of taking the Board exams, titled Exam Stress? A Normal Feeling, Learn to Deal with it.

The booklet suggests simple stress-busting techniques, dietary guidelines, simple exercises, mnemonics and also a section on parental do's and don'ts.

But the most important life skill that students can learn from the entire examination process is about stress itself. While school education gives students knowledge about the basics in different subjects, it fails to teach youngsters anything about Real Life.

If they begin to crack under the pressure of exams, how are they going to be able to cope with the pressure that comes with high-flying corporate jobs or the stress involved in maintaining adult relationships? Stress is a part of life and the sooner they get used to it, the better. The marks students get at the end of the Board exam may decide the future course their professional life may take, but it is the coping of strategies they learn, the support systems they develop and the core values they adopt that will help them become better professionals and better humans.

First Published: Jan 12, 2004 00:13 IST