Puncturing Exam Stress

Is your child stressed out about exams? Don't worry. You can help him de-stress with these tips.

By Dr Jyotsna Codaty

Puncturing Exam Stress


The word ‘exam’ has always been scary. But today, it describes a stage beyond fear, to continuous stress and its resultant problems.

Examination means different things to different people. To school children it is an ever present ogre, threatening their very happiness and influencing their daily lives in myriad ways. To the parent, it is the gateway to the future of their child’s career and financial well-being. To the teacher, it is a means of evaluation. Both the parent and teacher abet each other in pushing the child towards a goal perceived as ‘ideal’ to them that may or may not in the long term, coincide with the child’s aspiration. In the past, one believed that a well-prepared student (as in a first or second ranker) was without such fear, but today’s competition levels do not spare anyone.

Beating stress: DOs and DON'Ts

With exams around the corner, what can each home do to reduce the stress levels all around? The ideal solutions would be long term. In the month of February, there can only be some band-aid cures which will contain the pressure.

Sufficient sleep: Staying up late into the next morning, making do with 4 hours of sleep are a big no-no. Even during exam time, the child must get his required 8 hours of sleep, adjusted to 6 hours for teens only for a special test, and not for the entire examination week. This is required to give the brain time to recoup and retain whatever was imbibed earlier.

Recollect: Learning anew anything at all on the eve of the exam is neither practical nor useful. This period is only for recollecting whatever was learnt over the year.

Relax: A short nap after returning from the examination or some form of relaxation is a useful tool to unwind and feel fresh. The ideal situation would be for the child to be outdoors for an hour, playing games. Outdoor play releases Serotonin, a stress-buster. If other children are not available, the family/parent can take him for a long walk - but avoid talking exam or any related matter during this time. Incidentally, this will relax the parent also. The child could also sing or listen to classical music, which is another known stress-buster, and actually helps him concentrate better.

Avoid caffeinated drinks: Caffeine drinks like coffee, tea and aerated drinks, particularly the power drinks advertised for athletes are best avoided. Traditional brain boosters (even if they won’t do much for the brain!) like Horlicks and Bournvita are better options. (Please don’t kid yourself that a child reared on these is about to become the next Einstein.)

Don’t skip breakfast: A warm bath and a good breakfast is another must-do activity. A hungry belly does not provide enough nutrition for the brain. Do discourage any ideas that this morning bath and breakfast is a waste of time and that a quick gulp of a glass of milk, Horlicks etc will do. It won’t.

Healthy diet: A healthy diet for the child and indeed the entire family helps. While planning a menu, add the child’s favourite dishes to help him eat better.

Allow snacking: A child while studying, indulges in snacks. Do keep handy snacks like popcorn and fresh fruits and nuts as against fried snacks. If fried snacks rank high up as favourites, you can add them in small quantities.

Gauge stress levels: If the child has stomach cramps or feels nauseous, these are signs of high-stress levels. A heart to heart talk with the child is absolutely necessary. This is best done in a relaxed atmosphere and the first requisite is that the parent should not be stressed. An honest self-assessment by the parent that he is not the cause of this ‘result-oriented fear’ is necessary. If the situation persists, professional intervention is needed either immediately if the situation warrants, or soon after the exams for long-term solutions.

Revision: Ask the child to mark out chapters that he feels needs extra attention. Have him devote more time to these and ask him to skim over the chapters he is confident about. This, of course, is a personal preference and each child has to have his own strategy. It is best to be organised through the year.

Before entering the exam hall: Encourage the child to first identify and answer the questions he knows, instead of wasting time, in the beginning, answering questions he is not confident about. Remind him about writing his role number and trying to keep aside 10 minutes to quickly review his answers and so on.

No post-mortem: An important stress buster is to avoid post-mortems of the paper done and finished with. It is a total waste of time and causes a great deal of anguish for both you and the child, trying to calculate hypothetically lost marks. Simply hit the delete button and look at tomorrow.

Organise work and play: Help your child make a resolution (and help him keep it) for the next year’s strategy. Books should be kept in an organised manner. Homework, reading, revising, assignments, prep work should be done regularly, and without a pile-up.

Equal emphasis should be given for outdoor play. Parents should remember that such play, (particularly if the child is going to special classes for physical activities and music) should not be performance/competition oriented. This leads to even more stress.

Your child is his own person

A well-known person who was studying to be a doctor went to his mother with an invitation and a scholarship to study music. She said, “Show me your MBBS degree and then you can do what you want.” This person went on to complete his medicine, never worked as a doctor and became a world famous musician in his genre. His name is Dr L Subramaniam. Parents, while all our children may not become the world’s best in some field or the other, they have the right to make choices and work in the sphere they want to. Today’s world is indeed a global village and no longer does the good, better and best exist in the choice of professions. Multitudes of youngsters study in one field and take up careers in a totally different one. Please keep an open mind.

And lastly, water finds its own level. A check dam can marginally improve performance, not drastically. No amount of tuitions can increase a child’s performance from 60% to 99%. As a long term strategy for your child’s well-being, help him to be organised from the beginning of the school year, observe and identify areas where his aptitude and inclination lie and let him develop those skills. Your child is his own person.


Dr Jyotsna Codaty is a physician and has written books on stress management. (www.letstalkdoc.com)