By Piya Banerjee, Founder & CEO of Grey Matters Wellness; Consultant Psychologist at Medica Superspeciality Hospital, Kolkata; Certified RECBT Practitioner, AEI, New York
Many students experience intense stress or anxiety before an exam. Exams are a criterion by which students are assessed in the society. This creates a pressure in the mind of the students. This pressure created brings about physiological arousal, tension, worry, fear of failure and discomfort before or while taking a test and also during the period of examination. In fact, a little nervousness can actually help you perform your best. However, when this distress becomes so excessive that it actually interferes with performance, it is known as test anxiety.
Parental pressures to perform well can be anxiety provoking to their children. Parents often compare the grades of their children to those of their peers and instill the fear of exams in them in order to motivate them to study well. This might have adverse effect on the student making him/her more anxious. Teachers are often partial towards students by not giving them the grades that they deserve which reaffirms the anxiety in the students. Students who do not perform well are often subjected to bullying by the peers who perform well.
While undergoing such a situation an individual might feel fearful, angry, disappointed, guilty, helpless and shameful. Certain physiological changes like nausea, racing heart, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, dry mouth, tense muscles might also occur in such circumstances. Individuals might have racing thoughts, difficulty in concentration when suffering from test anxiety.
Fight or flight response
Test anxiety can develop as preparedness to the body to face a stressful situation. This commonly is known as a fight or flight response which helps the individual to either face the situation or escape it completely. Students who have low self-esteem often doubt themselves even when they are well prepared. Some students end up procrastinating due to the fear of exams and put off their work till they have shortage of preparation time; which escalates and reaffirms their anxiety of exam. Past negative experiences of low performance, if not handled well, reinforces the feeling of anxiety.
Grades do not necessarily reflect understanding
Parents, teachers and the society as a whole, should encourage students to learn to gain knowledge and understanding of concepts, rather than focusing on grades. Students should be made to feel capable in their own way. Grades do not necessarily reflect the understanding of concepts. The whole objective of education is to equip our students with thorough knowledge and understanding of the subject, therefore helping them apply concepts learnt, in real world situations.
Below are some of the ways by which we can help students initiate the process of reducing test anxiety:
Work on building confidence
Positive self- talk
Understanding that one cannot always perform well
Supporting students through tutors, study material and notes
Helping them prepare their daily routine
Chock out a plan to complete the syllabus
Scheduling adequate time for revision
Practice through mock tests
Helping them in maintaining a positive attitude
Teaching them to take failure as learning instead of setbacks
Giving emotional support to the students even at times of under-performance rather than stigmatizing them
Since it is inevitable to feel anxious before an exam teaching the students relaxation techniques is a good strategy to work on
Making sure students get adequate sleep and have well-balanced meals.
Engaging in physical activity
Scheduling sufficient intervals in between study hours
Supporting them with positive affirmations each time they doubt their capabilities
Seeking professional help for handling emotional difficulties