Examination time can be very stressful for students. However, with strategic studying methods, students can do well in exams.
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram
Exams are a part of life – a normal and necessary part of our rites of passage. However, when exams are perceived as ‘monsters and death traps’ that one cannot escape, it causes our minds to view them as a weakening threat. The problem is not with ‘exams’ per se, but rather with the exaggerated and negative way we think and feel about exams.
Many children while facing exams, especially board exams, wonder, “Do I know enough?”, “What questions will come?”, “What if I do badly?” or “What if I fail?” It is easy to get stuck in a downward spiral, end up in a panic situation and finally blank out in the examination hall!
Below are five practical strategies, based on scientific research from the field of educational psychology that can specifically help you bust examination stress:
Positive thinking – Research has proven that when we positively ‘reframe’ the way we think, it impacts the way we feel and act. Instead of viewing exams as a ‘threat’ - like a tsunami that is going to unleash its fury and suck us in - we need to reframe our thinking to view exams as a ‘challenge’. We conquer examination stress, much like we would get excited about preparing to conquer a mountain – make it a motivating and exciting challenge.
Visualise success – As you prepare for your exams by reading and learning content, also prepare and strengthen your mind! One way to do that is by visualizing success. Think of a time you accomplished something that gave you a sense of pride, achievement or happiness. Close your eyes and run that event in your mind, capturing how that made you feel. This becomes your snapshot moment of success – one that you recall when you feel that stress coming on. What you are effectively doing is telling your brain that you are capable, courageous and confident – you’ve tasted success before and you can do so again.
Meditation and relaxation – If you feel anxiety or panic during the exams, your mind might start racing and you may find yourself thinking negative thoughts such as – “I can't do this!” or “I'm going to fail”. At these moments, make a conscious effort to close your eyes and take in slow, deep breaths, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. The recommended formula is 4-7-8. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Then hold your breath for a count of 7 and finally release your breath through your mouth for a count of 8. At a physiological level this will start calming you down. After doing this 2-3 times, consciously recall and visualise your moments of success. The third step is to start telling yourself positive and assuring thoughts like, “I know this is just panic”, “I can do it”, ”I can calm down” and “I know it is all going to be well”. Once you feel the anxiety reduce, pick up your question paper and calmly continue answering it.
Bridging objects – The psychology behind a ‘lucky’ charm that many successful people use, can be explained by the concept of a ‘bridging object’. Essentially when we carry/wear an object that has a positive association with a person, event or place - touching that object can be calming. At times when we feel anxious, it can provide us with a sense of security. At the same time, the caution is that one should not be over dependent on such an object to the point that we cannot function if that object were to get lost/broken!
Sow the ‘SEED’ – Apart from the cognitive strategies already discussed, the SEED strategy focuses on the physiological aspects of – Sleep, Exercise, Eating healthy and Dealing with distractions. What this means is that even though you may be tempted, you must not fall prey to - sleeping less, eating junk food, not going out to play/exercise and giving in to long unproductive distractions. In the long run, not taking care of these basics will cost you dearly. A healthy lifestyle – balancing diet, sleep and exercise - is the cornerstone to reducing examination stress.
The bottom line is the fact that facing exams is a universal truth of life! The other universal truth is the fact that there is life after exams! So, while the present scenario of facing exams seems intense, it too will pass! Once you make a purposeful decision to change your attitude about your exams, you will feel more confident, calm and capable of conquering your examination stress!
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram – is an award winning Psychotherapist, Parent and Child Expert, with 10 years of experience in the USA.
She is the Founder of Life Skills Experts that enables parents and teachers to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.LifeSkillsExperts.com
She is also the Founder of ‘A Flourishing Me’, that offers contemporary Counselling and Parent and Life Coaching [www.AFlourishing.me]
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Aparna Samuel Balasundaram