Stress, anxiety, nervousness, tension, hardships, restlessness, Imposter syndrome, crunch, fear.. etc., etc… You must be strongly feeling some of these emotions when you are near the exam. I am someone similar to you. Just the word exam has some negative connotation attached to it. Even if you are a gold medalist, there is some form of stress you are dealing with during the exam season. In fact, with my experience, I can say that for a competitive student, the stress levels increase even further. Even now if I am close to any exam, there is some kind of nervousness. The degree of the stress may vary, but it persists. Let me start by sharing a story; I was once asked to write a paper for a literature student, who was visually challenged. In this exam, I was supposed to sit with her in the exam hall and write whatever she dictated to me. That sounds simple, right? It is not my exam, and I just have to write down what she says, no pressure! Even then I was worried about a gazillion things – What if my writing speed is slow?; What if I didn’t put the correct punctuations?; What if my handwriting was not acceptable?; What if the spellings were wrong? What if I fall sick during the exam? … blah.. blah.. blah!
Often times, we know that we will get through it. Yet we put so much more pressure and worsen it with our never-ending thoughts which are mostly negative. So, I decided to analyse it. I tried to understand its impact on the performance and the ways to control it.
What is causing stress?
- Self-doubt – Not holding enough confidence in your abilities is the sizeable reason why we are stressed. We think we are not worth it, we do not know enough, we are not prepared, we had limited time… but most of them are just thoughts. This is just you telling yourself that you do not have the potential.
- Pressure – Another common reason for high-stress levels is putting too much pressure on yourself. You want a distinction in that subject, or a score above the 90th percentile, or a score higher than your competitor in the class. The pressure can come from within or via your friends and family.
- Fear – In certain instances, the exam in front of you could be a massive milestone that you need to cross to move ahead in your career. These are mostly the hefty competitive exams like – NEET, USMLE, PLAB, FMGE etc. In these exams, you have a lot at stake, which results in fear of failure or the fear of not scoring ‘good enough’.
What is the impact of stress?
While there is a lot of negative resemblance to stress, there is another side to it which I would want to discuss. I firmly believe that stress is not healthy, and we should not be glamourizing it, but I also want to express my thoughts about the other side of the coin.
Stress to some degree can also act as a pushing factor which forces you to get to work. Whether it is some degree of self-doubt or pressure from your parents or the fear of failing an exam; it pushes you to get out of the bed and start studying. It is the same as forcing yourself to complete the assignment before the deadline. In this scenario, it is not harming you; instead, it acts like that gym trainer who yells at you to go for one more set of biceps curl so that you can have that Johny Bravo physique. With this degree of stress, the results are mostly in your favour.
However, in the majority of cases, stress is the major contributor to underperformance in the exam. Those shaky hands and the heart palpitations, which echo in the exam hall; invite a lot of consequences for your score report. It is all the work of your mind. When you are stressed, your mind is busy reacting to those emotions/thoughts, and as a result, it is hard to concentrate on the exam paper. You might not be consciously aware of it, but take a moment to think back… Did you ever miss out a question in the exam paper? Did you miss out on reading any of the options? Did you absolutely go blank between the exam? Were you not able to recall something you just taught your friend a day before? If your answer to any of it is, yes; can you think of a logical reason behind why that happened?
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How to control stress?
Before I start writing, I want you to know that I am still evolving and learning so many things every day, which helps me handle stress better. So, this does not mean that I have thoroughly mastered “stress management”. In all honesty, I will mention below whatever worked out for me, which I think can help you as well.
- Practice meditation – Please, do not jump to the next point, read it through. I know meditation sounds dull and overwhelming at the same time. But you will not discover the beauty of it unless you practice it. It is something that will give you slow but effective results. Earlier I was a sceptic too, “Why should I waste my time sitting quietly for 15 minutes?” I have no words to explain how it has been a game-changer for me. Start by 5 minutes a day, and increase it gradually. You can use free apps like – Headspace and Calm to guide you during meditation.
- Stay away from stressful company – Whether it is your parents or your best friend if talking to them gives you stress, you have to cut some slack to yourself. Either talk to them to explain how some topics affected your mental well being or just completely cut off the conversations. I am sure if they want the best for you, they will be supportive.
- Self-affirmations – This will do wonders for you. Remind yourself about your potential; think about some of your achievements, recall the time you were proud of yourself, the time you helped someone; think of how long you have come. Also, think of the challenges that you overcame, the backbreaking time you faced, think of the dreadful experiences that you persevered through. From all these instances remind yourself about the phenomenal qualities you have, remind yourself about your potential and your ability to get through this small exam.
- Reward yourself for the small wins – It acts as a motivation to get through the exams. If you can complete one unit in a day, reward yourself with a head massage or your favourite meal. After completing an exam, you can spend time with a friend or go to your favourite coffee place. Celebrating the small victories helps you keep faith in yourself, reminds you of the progress you are making, and prevents burnout.
I wish you all the best for your upcoming exams. I know you have the potential, and I hope you feel the same about yourself. Exams have never been easy for anyone, but remember you are not the only one in this. If others can do it, you can do it too. Have faith in yourself, you have got this.
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