Urgent Support

Exam Stress

As the mid sems approached, Aarti found it increasingly difficult to sleep or eat well. She was having frequent headaches and would often feel irritated and low. She had been trying to prepare for the exams but thoughts like 'I'll never be able to get through this work', 'I'm going to fail', 'Everyone is doing so much better than me', would bother her. With each passing day, she would feel more and more anxious, which would in turn affect her ability to focus and study.

Initiation

The exam period is an inherently stressful situation. Other than the expectation to be able to recall a vast amount of information, there are factors such as the intense competition on campus, the pressure of expectations from family and friends and the immense importance placed on grades, all of which add to the stress students face during this time.

An excess amount of exam stress can actually interfere with one’s learning process and make studying hard, which in turn, can affect your grades. Thus, one can become stuck in a negative loop of sorts, just like Aarti.

However, there are several things that you can keep in mind while preparing for an exam, or during ongoing exams and post-exams, to ensure that you do not get stuck in such a loop.

Coping Mechanisms

Things you can do during the Preparatory phase
Eat Healthy

While junk food helps feel better temporarily, it also leads to reduced metabolism, causing fatigue and lethargy. Aim for a balanced diet don't miss meals and stay hydrated

Get Good Sleep

When well-rested, you are more likely to return to your preparation refreshed and better remember what you’ve read. Here are some resources to aid your sleep.

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Physical Activity

Engaging in at least 15-20 minutes of some sort of physical activity can refresh your body and mind.

Reduce the use of substances

Substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol act as stimulants that induce stress rather than reducing it. Find healthier alternatives you can turn to instead like green tea, fruit or vegetable juices etc.

Practice relaxation techniques

Figure which relaxation technique works best for you and invest time in practicing the same. Effective relaxation techniques not only help improve well-being but also help greatly during moments of distress.

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Find stress outlets

Taking guilt-free breaks is as important as studying. Sports, running, social activities, music, spiritual activities, journaling, painting, other hobbies; find out what helps you unwind.

Be prepared

Gathering all the information you need regarding topics, dates, resources in advance can save some last-minute nerves!

Be as organized as possible

Decluttering your physical space and creating a studying atmosphere, which is similar to the one in which you will take the exam, is known to help.

Follow a routine

While it may not always be possible, following a pre-decided routine helps to feel more in control. Obtaining a realistic estimate about how long you will take to complete your work and accounting for the same can be beneficial.

Notice your self-talk

Our thoughts impact the way we feel. What are some of the words you are using when thinking/talking about your exam taking abilities? Notice if they are too harsh, too critical or unrealistic. Check for evidence against these thoughts. Come up with alternative thoughts that are more self-compassionate and realistic about possible outcomes.

While the exams are on

For many of us, the stress increases right before or during exams week.
Some ways that stress during exams manifests for students
  • Having butterflies in stomach
  • Being nauseous
  • Having sweaty palms
  • Experiencing dizziness
  • Fast heartbeats
  • 'Going blank'
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling confused/ overwhelmed/ frustrated
  • Behaviours like fidgeting/ crying/ grinding teeth/ being restless/ pacing/ nail biting
  • Thoughts like 'I can't do this', 'I'm not good enough'.

Things that can help

Avoid skipping meals and while all-nighters might be tempting, get at least some sleep before a paper.

Figure what you will need on the exam day and organize it the night before.

When you're dealing with your own anxieties, talking to someone else who is also feeling very overwhelmed just before a paper may make you both feel worse. Focus on doing things to make yourself feel calmer (like listening to calming music).

Journaling or writing down your worries, doubts, and thoughts is known to help and make it less likely to affect you during important moments. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just type something out on your phone or scribble it out on a piece of paper .

If you sense yourself getting worried as you sit for your paper, take a moment, use your breath to calm down. Breathe in and out to the count of 3 and repeat till you feel better.

During the exam, work on questions you know well first.

Avoid focusing on what others are doing.

After the exams end

When exams end, we tend to feel some relief about it being over. But for many of us it can only be a period of increased worry about our performance and results.
Some ways that stress about results manifests for students
  • Falling sick often without reason
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Feeling low/ cranky/ lonely
  • Feeling fearful about the future
  • Experiencing a loss of confidence
  • Withdrawing and isolating self
  • Increased anxiety as results approach
  • Constantly worrying about the results
  • Thoughts like 'I can't get a single thing right, 'I'll never do well'.

Things that can help

As tempting as it may be, avoid discussing the papers and answers with your friends once it's done.

Avoid comparing yourself with others. Everyone has their own journey.

Reward yourself for your hard work!

Continue to look after yourself

Go on with your regular routine of classes, assignments as before. Regret or anxiety about the exam that just ended should not interfere with your chances of improving in the next (e.g preparing for end-sems even though mid-sems did not go up to expectation.)

Take up some hobbies. Engage in the activities you enjoyed but didn’t have enough time for before.

Spend quality time with your friends and family.

Again, identify your thoughts about the exam and results. When we are stressed, we tend to start believing only the worst-case scenario (I am going to fail this exam and my life will be over); label ourselves (I’m such a failure); generalise our experiences (I never pass tests); start assuming what others are going to think (Everyone is going to think I'm stupid); and have many other such thoughts.

Once you've identified these, assess the accuracy of the same. Look for evidence for and against these ideas. What would you say to a friend if they had the same thought? What’s the worst that could happen? How could you cope if it really did happen? Put together a more accurate possibility.

Also, remember

Treat an exam that hasn't gone well as a learning experience.

Even though it may not seem like it right now, your exams are not everything. They do not solely determine your path.

You are much more than your exam result.

You have already done well (cracked the JEE!) and are studying in a prestigious institute. Even if this exam doesn't go well, it does not discredit everything you have done so far. Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come.

Seek Help

If your stress is getting too much and you're finding it difficult to cope on your own, do not hesitate to reach out.
  • For academic concerns, the Faculty Advisor could be your first point of contact. You may also have specific queries about your different courses, in which case you can talk to your respective course instructors. The DAMP mentor (if you have one) would help you out as well.
  • For any other concerns like managing your schedule, your ISMP/ ISCP mentor is your go-to person! Your mentor has been there, done that.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talking to a counsellor at the Student Wellness Centre could give relief and provide guidance about what you can do.
  • Additionally, your parents are just a phone call away. Don't hold back from contacting them even if you just want to unburden!