How to pass the test of nerves
Come Board examinations and students gear up to battle the bugbear of anxiety and doubts that hover in their mind. Experts give tips on how to beat exam stress and come up trumps without losing your cool
Dr Samir Parikh

exam time is synonymous with sleepless nights, frayed nerves and sky-high stress levels. Thoughts ranging from college cut-offs, reactions of parents, nightmares of blanking out during exams etc. can plague any student. Stress in itself is not a bad thing. An optimum level of stress motivates you to perform better. However, too much stress for too long can wreak havoc with your life and your performance in examinations. Each person has a different stress threshold and may use different strategies to cope. Depending on individual factors, examinations can bring out the best or the worst in people.

Parent trap

Teachers, parents and friends also add to the mass hysteria that surrounds examinations and adds to the pressure that you may already be going through. The anxiety of the parent or teacher can get superimposed on you, leading to self-doubt and fear. Seeking healthy social support is very important for you at this time to ensure your mental health. If you feel that your parentsí anxiety is affecting you negatively, do not hesitate to talk to them. Have an honest conversation about what is worrying them and how it affects you. Appreciating their concerns and fears will help to ally not only their anxiety but yours as well. If they have any specific concerns about your study habits, addressing them directly or explaining your point of view to them will also help to diffuse the situation. Sharing your time table and progress in studies with them can also help both of you to keep your cool.

Turn to teachers & friends

Teachers are a great resource we tend to underutilise during examinations. They have great experience and insight into the mind of the examiner. It helps to pick their brains during revision to clear doubts and difficult concepts. Getting their inputs on important aspects of the syllabus can help you plan your revision strategy better. It is natural to feel anxious or hesitate to ask a teacher doubts or problems. Remember that they are there to help you. You do not need to worry about looking silly; remember that questions and doubts only come from those students who are actually studying. It is never too late in the day to clarify a doubt or a problem Ė after all, better late than never.

For most students, friends are a great support system during exams. They know exactly what you are going through as they are in the same boat. Using the support of friends, parents and teachers is very important to help you to cope with exam stress. Sharing your feelings with someone who is a good listener, does not judge or try and offer unsolicited advice can be hugely beneficial to help you handle any difficulties during exams. However, sometimes friends can add to our stress, anxiety and feed our negative thoughts. You may call up your friend and ask her how much of the syllabus she has covered; only to find out that she is four chapters ahead of you. Just thinking about this scenario may cause you to panic and affect the rest of your study plans.

One good way not to have to go through this stress-inducing situation and yet stay connected with friends is to simply not discuss your study progress report. After all, you would need a break from all the studying! Use the opportunity of a break to have a short, relaxing phone conversation with your friend. Catch up on gossip, complain about the idea of having to study, discuss the latest movies and feel like a normal student again. Just do not compare notes of how much have you studied vs. how much I have studied. Everyone has a different method and pace of studying and comparing is simply futile. Remember that you are a unique individual working in a way that is most suited to you.

Do not postpone

One of the greatest enemies of a good study plan is procrastination. You may procrastinate for a number of reasons. Some people believe that last-minute pressure improves their motivation others are too scared to open a difficult chapter and be faced with concepts they feel they canít understand while others donít know how to begin. The antidote to procrastination is having a good plan and following it through. Prioritise your tasks from most important to least important, along with the expected duration of the task and divide your time accordingly. Turning the other way or ďbeing an ostrichĒ about the work isnít going to help you reduce the syllabus. It is best to face your demons head on.

Manage your time effectively by having a realistic time table that you can follow. Make checklists and divide your tasks into manageable sizes. This means do not divide your study material chapter-wise but rather divide each chapter into topics and study them accordingly. Highlighting is another method that can be very effective during revision. Remember to use only one highlighter and to use it sparingly. Highlighting the entire text destroys the purpose of highlighting. Try and mix up your subjects, as studying the same thing all day can cause lapses in concentration.

Best shot

Keeping it real and maintaining a realistic perspective helps you keep yourself sane. Examinations are a life-skill meant to test your learning and not your ability to memorise names and reproduce them on paper. Exams teach you how to manage your time, deal with stress and prioritise your tasks effectively. When well-prepared, examinations can even be enjoyable. Remember that examinations are not the end of the world, all you have to do is to give it your best possible shot.

Lessons to learn

No study marathons: It is most effective to study for a 45-minute to one-hour duration as our ability to concentrate is best suited to this time span.

Take frequent breaks: It is recommended to take a 10 to 15 minute break after every one hour spent studying. Do not watch television during these breaks. Move out of the study room for a quick walk, have a quick chat on the phone etc.

Protect your sleep: The lack of sleep leads to fatigue, a drop in concentration and retention and can drastically increase your stress levels. Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep.

You are not under curfew: Take time out from studying to destress. Play an outdoor sport, go for a walk and listen to music. Striking a balance between studies and other activities is important for good mental health

ó Dr Samir Parikh is Director, Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi


Protect your vision
Dr Sanjay Dhawan

Exams are just round the corner and students are completely engrossed in books because they donít want to leave any stone unturned to attain good results. They are putting in long hours to meet their teachersí and parentsí expectations. Bu spending long hours with the nose buried in books may damage their eyes.

When the eyes are working hard for a very long period of time, the strain may cause a number of side-effects. These include sore eyeballs, headaches, back and neck aches, drooping eyelids and blurred vision. Because yes often donít blink enough when focusing on a single object, the student may experience uncomfortable dryness in eyes and prolonged eye strain can make it worse.

Children who learn speed reading very often lose their eyesight very quickly because this is counter to the way our eyes are designed and leads to eyestrain and blurring.

Sometimes children complain of dizziness, headache and the brain seems to be unable to think and grasp because the brain needs time to absorb oxygen and blood supplements.

So the reading time must be limited if you want to have a healthy mind and eyes.

Donít study continuously for long hours. The best way to prevent eye strain is to take break and do a small exercise of shifting the focus. Shift your focus from near to far then shift your focus from up close to at least 20 feet away.

If students practice relaxation, a good posture without strain, deep breathing and blinking, and do not diffuse attention, or stare, or squint, they can study as long as they wish to with ease.

For strain-free eyes:

If you feel tired, close your eyes and take a good rest.

Black tea helps the eyes to recover.

Applying cucumber slices to the eyes helps to keep them fresh

Keep the surrounding light balanced

Massaging eyelids and muscles over the brow, temple and upper cheek once or twice daily

ó Dr Sanjay Dhawan is the Chief Eye Surgeon, Eye Care Delhi