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Jul 31, 2017 at 11:00

The period of examinations is generally extremely stressful for everyone in the family. The child may want to avoid his or her exams. If there isn’t enough pressure on the child from the outside, students often put additional pressure on themselves as well. We have our expert Dr. Prerna Kohli, Family and Child Psychologist, on how to detect and manage exam related stress.

As a parent of a school going child, there will be stress during the examination season. Either your child will be stressed, or you, the parent will be stressed. This article is focused on the stress on the student and how the parents and the school can handle it.

The period of examinations is generally extremely stressful for everyone in the family. The child may want to avoid his or her exams. They also may want to avoid studying and revising for approaching exams. They procrastinate by daydreaming, watching TV, or wasting time on social media. As a parent, you are worried about their education, as your belief is that if they excel in school and perform well in their education, they will have a larger number of opportunities in life and a choice of best colleges to attend. Your concerns are valid and legitimate.

Your concerns about your child’s future are valid about how they perform in their board exams, or other class exams. Yet you need to step back and appreciate how worrisome and intimidating it is for the child. Not only is preparing, and sitting for the exams a difficult task, the post examination period is even more worrisome. The number of children who start to suffer from post examination syndrome is astounding.

You as a parent have to be strong, and help your school going child through this trying time. You need to listen to them, and understand their fears and provide sufficient encouragement and distraction for them. Given below are my tips on making the examination time less stressful.

Pre-examination tips:

  1. A relaxed and comfortable place to study
  2. If you don’t have a quiet spot in your house, see if they can study at a neighbor or friend’s house
  3. As a parent, understand that some children learn better with background “sound”. If they are listening to music or TV in the background for “white noise”, it may be the best thing for them
  4. Be flexible with the families’ schedule, to accommodate the student
  5. Connect with the teachers at school, to see if they have any tips to help your child perform better in the upcoming exams
  6. This is a time to have a flexible timetable for your child, on when to bathe, eat, exercise etc. Remember exercise is very important
  7. Let your child know that it is never too late to start to prepare for the exams or too seek help from teachers, tutors and friends
  8. Don’t bribe your child to study, teach them to study and perform well for their own satisfaction and success
  9. Planning a dinner, a movie or any other small distraction such as visit to a friend’s or relative’s house is a good diversion
  10. As a parent, you need to keep calm and remain positive, your child will pick up your vibes and if you are stressed, this will add to their stress
  11. There is always another chance in life, many times children get so stressed that they take irreversible steps, you don’t want your child to take any steps that they or you may regret

A lot of students get confused between examination pressure and examination stress. Both parents need to understand and appreciate the difference between stress and pressure. From a Psychologist’s point of view, pressure can be healthy and beneficial; it creates motivation and the desire to excel. Additionally, pressure is what makes a lump of coal into a diamond. Pressure ensures that the student is motivated to excel, and doesn’t have time to be idle, and enjoys his or her free moments of rest and recreation. Pressure to excel makes a person perform. The term “peer pressure” i.e. when you find that a friend is getting better grades than you, pressurizes you to perform better. Think of runners standing at the starting line of a race. Each one of them is under pressure to run faster than the others, this pressure makes them excel.

Stress on the other hand is negative, and manifests itself as depression, if it continues to prolong itself.  Stress can be defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”  Stress has connotations of negativity; and leads to a do or die situation. One of the best definitions of examination stress is, “Stress is defined as an individual’s response to pressure. A small amount of pressure can be useful to keep you focused during exam time. However, for some students, when they experience too much pressure for a long period of time, it becomes stressful and exam preparation and study seems impossible.”

The question that comes to mind is why do students (and their parents) undergo examination stress?  While exam stress is expected and normal, in fact if a student is not under stress prior to an exam that should be a matter of concern. The reason for stress can be as simple as memorizing and learning a very large amount of course material, and being unsure of what will be in the examination paper. Students have this fear that if they leave a particular chapter or topic of the course material, the paper may just cover that. The other reason is that the outcome of the examination will alter the path of their future life.

Stress levels and the ability to handle stress vary from individual to individual, no two people are alike and neither is their ability to handle stress.

Both parents and the students need to watch out for these symptoms of examinations stress, and if they notice these symptoms of stress they need to engage in stress release activities or if necessary talk to an experienced psychologist or counselor. The symptoms of examination stress are

  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Difficulty in waking up in the morning
  • Low Motivation levels to start a new chapter, new subject etc
  • Procrastination
  • Not socializing with friends and family
  • Being nasty and unpleasant to parents, siblings and others at home
  • Mind going blank prior or during an exam
  • Feeling sick, or wanting to vomit, or rapid heartbeat, cold and clammy hands, unsettled stomach

While many students will experience these symptoms during the examination season, these are neither healthy nor constructive, and both parents and the students need to work around mitigating these symptoms.

To manage exam stress the student must do the following:

  1. Have a regular exercise regime, (pre-exams in not the time to spend hours and hours in the gym) the regime should be brief and not very strenuous, a good idea is to do 20-30 minutes of stretching exercises, push-ups, sit-ups, planks etc
  2. Set aside time to relax, i.e. watch TV, Facebook, etc., give yourself targets, once I have studied Maths for 90 minutes, I will use Facebook for 10 minutes. The relaxation should be about 10% of the time. So if you study for 3 hours at a stretch, take a 15-20 minutes break.
  3. Sleep well, don’t shortchange your body on the sleep you require, during the exam period 6-7 hours of sleep is mandatory
  4. Eat, and eat healthy, a pizza is not a bad reward, but your diet should consist of nutritious and healthy foods
  5. Avoid comparing yourself to your friends, specially the number of hours he/she is studying
  6. Quit habits that come in the way of concentrating on your studies, this is not the time to indulge yourself
  7. Don’t do any exam post-mortem, analyzing how you did on the exam is not going to fix anything

Something that both the parent and student need to remember is that these exams or their results do not define who the student is as a human being. The exams are only for a brief period and will come and go away soon enough. American Basketball player Kobe Bryant said “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

I agree with motivational speaker Ben Caron, that no matter how good you are at planning (or preparing for examinations), the pressure (to excel in the exams) never goes away. So one should not fight the pressure, instead, feed off this pressure and turn the pressure into motivation to do your best.  Below are some of my favorite tips on performing better on the upcoming exams.

Exam tips:

  1. Encourage them to ready their exam equipment, such as pencils, pens, notebooks and other stationary
  2. If they are going for a board exam, to a different center than their usual school, do a dry run, on how long it takes to reach the exam center at the scheduled time, as parents keep your vehicle prepped up.
  3. Prepare a checklist of what they need to carry with them, run through the checklist to make sure that everything is assembled
  4. Make sure that your child understands and believes that you are proud of them, and will love them irrespective of how they fare in the exams. Create an environment of encouragement and positivity around them. In our family, it is about eating a special meal (sweet rice and curd) and a quick trip to the neighborhood temple, create a pre-exam routine for your child

Post the exam tips:

The period after the exams is a time to talk about how your children feel, allow them to talk while you listen to them. Ensure that they don’t focus on their mistakes. This is a good time to share your own experiences with examinations when you were growing up. This is a time to provide encouragement and allay their fears, plan on some fun activities with your child. In India, board exams (class X, and specifically class XII) and the ensuing results are an important milestone in a child’s life, they have their own fears and apprehensions for the future, you as parents need to be the calming forces and energy in this period.

One of my favorite sayings: “When thinking of life, no amount of guilt can solve the past, and no amount of anxiety can solve the future. 


About Dr. Prerna Kohli

Dr. Kohli believes that “You can talk with a close friend or relative about what’s troubling you; but it’s not the same as professionally-trained experienced psychologist who knows exactly what kind of help you need.”

She is a 100 women Achievers Award Winner (2016) from the Honorable President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee.

Dr. Prerna Kohli is a Clinical Psychologist, a Public Speaker, a Workshop Facilitator and a Holistic Practitioner. She offers Heart-based workshops and lectures that focus on Life Balance, Self-awareness and Inner Peace. Dedicated to sharing her knowledge and compassion with others, Prerna blends intuitive wisdom with solid understanding, creating a powerful holistic approach, specializing in the areas of Emotional change.

Dr. Prerna Kohli is a leading Psychologist in India and provides families, individuals, parents and children counseling on being happy.