Examinations: Dealing with the devil

Examinations: Dealing with the devil

Students experience a lot of stress, especially during the exam period. It is very important for students to learn to manage stress if they want to succeed in exams. Exam stress is usually associated with the fear that students will disappoint their parents with their performance and with the expectations they have about themselves.

Madam, I am a college student. With exams approaching, I feel nervous, tensed and fearful and am unable to concentrate. Please suggest tips to overcome tension and stress?-Santosh, Rajendra Nagar

The best way to handle exams and interview stress is to be well prepared. Study well. – Terry Mark

Students experience a lot of stress, especially during the exam period. It is very important for students to learn to manage stress if they want to succeed in exams. Exam stress is usually associated with the fear that students will disappoint their parents with their performance and with the expectations they have about themselves.

Normal levels of stress can help you work, think faster and more effectively and will improve your performance. If you find your anxiety overwhelming, your performance could be badly affected. Becoming aware of what causes your anxiety will help reduce the stress. Then you can manage it better and do yourself justice. Anxiety can cause:

  • Patchy sleep and sleepless nights.
  • Irritability or short temper.
  • Stomach butterflies.
  • Poor appetite or comfort eating or snacking.
  • Tendency to drink more alcohol or smoke more.

A lot of students respond to stress of exams by blindly studying harder with diminishing returns and increasing stress. Research has shown that cramming or last minute revising is not conducive to even short-term knowledge gain.

Causes for exam anxiety could be:

Examination stress has many different sources. The combination of different factors, namely thoughts and emotions each student has is responsible for creating stress.

Lack of preparation and planning

One of the most important factors that cause exam stress is lack of preparation and planning. It is generally observed that students start their preparation for exams as soon as their exam time table is out. They then realise that they do not have much time for preparation as the syllabus is vast.

Parental expectations

Most parents expect their child to come out with flying colors in all college exams. However, all students are not equally talented and this limits their ability to perform well in the exam.

Parental expectations can lead to stress in some students as they strive to match up to their parents’ expectation in spite of limited capacities.

Competition from peers

There is cut throat competition these days amongst students in colleges, when it comes to their academic performance. It builds up a lot of pressure that leads to stress, especially in mediocre students as they associate it mostly with the fear of rejection.

Internal Pressure

The pressure to perform well and succeed doesn't just have to come from a student's family; instead, the student may apply pressure on himself. If the student wants to be the best, his poor performance in a test may increase his fear. If the student spends too much time thinking about how difficult the exam is and worrying about the outcome of the test, this negative approach will increase exam stress.

Biological causes of exam anxiety

In stressful situations, such as before and during an exam, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This helps prepare the body to deal with what is about to happen and is commonly referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response. Essentially, this response prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or escape the situation entirely. In a lot of cases, this adrenaline rush is actually a good thing. It helps prepare you to deal effectively with stressful situations, ensuring that you are alert and ready.

For some people, however, the symptoms of anxiety can become so excessive that it makes it difficult or even impossible for them to focus on the exam. Symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking hands can actually make people feel even more nervous, especially if they become preoccupied with exam anxiety symptoms.

Psychological causes of exam anxiety

  • feeling little or no control over the exam situation
  • negative thinking and self-criticism
  • irrational thinking about exams and outcomes
  • Irrational beliefs "If I don't pass, my (family/friends) will lose respect for me"; "I will never get a degree."
  • Irrational demands "I have to get at least 95% or I am worthless."
  • Catastrophic predictions "I'll fail no matter what I do—there’s no point."

Positive self statements for coping with exam anxiety


  • Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation. Remember to use any breathing/ relaxation techniques.
  • It won’t last long and I can cope with it.


  • I can tolerate anxiety - I have managed a lot of times before.
  • Remember to breathe and relax.
  • The feelings are not pleasant but they are not harmful or dangerous.

How to manage exam tension:

1.Have a good schedule for completing the entire syllabus . Figure out how many days you have to study and the subjects you have to read. Then make a schedule by dividing the days for each subject according to the subject's importance.

2.Improve your study skills. Effective study skills can reduce stress by making you feel more in control of your work and more confident that you will succeed.

  • Identify the best time of the day to study.
  • Plan a timetable
  • Start revision on time.
  • Prioritize

3.While you are studying, take a break when you feel tired and your mind starts to wander away. If your concentration does not last for an hour, you should take a 5-10 minute break every hour to refresh your mind. With practice and minimal distractions, you might be able to space out your breaks gradually, so you can study productively for longer stretches.

4.Exercise. Physical exercise like running, jogging or skipping for 15-20 minutes every day will make you feel stress free and mentally fit. Regular moderate exercise will boost your energy, clear your mind and reduce feelings of stress. Try out some yoga, meditation or some other relaxation techniques. They will help keep you calm and balanced, improve your concentration levels and help you sleep better.

5.Make time for fun. Build leisure time into your revision days and the days that you attend your exams. Get involved in a non-academic activity, such as sports, crafts, hobbies or music for some time. Anything that you find relaxing or enjoyable that will give you a break from thinking or worrying about your exams will be beneficial.

6.Control your breathing. If you notice that you are starting to feel very stressed, for example, as you wait for the examination to start, try to regulate your breathing by concentrating on breathing out to a slow count of four; the breathing in will take care of itself. It will be helpful if you practice this exercise when you are not stressed so that you are very familiar with the technique when you need it.

7.Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Anxiety increases when one feels tired, run down and overwhelmed. Overall resilience depends on one's physical and mental health, which can be strengthened by:

  • Having a balanced life
  • Keeping realistic expectations
  • Eating healthy
  • Using positive imagery
  • Having regular and adequate sleep

If you find yourself getting stressed about an upcoming exam, don't be afraid to talk to somebody. This can be a parent, a friend, a psychologist or a helpline. It's better to talk before you let your nerves affect your health.

By:N Radhika Acharya

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