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Stressed about college exams? A professor shares 10 strategies to combat it

An Emeritus Professor (Psychology) Education and Dean of Academics at Apeejay Stya University, says ‘normal to be stressed about exams, but don’t fear them’



Now that the results of classes X and XII are out, it is time for college students to hit the books. The exams for a few colleges/universities are either ongoing or will begin in June. There are bound to be moments of anxiety and stress. While it is normal to be anxious about the upcoming exams, students should not fear the exams themselves.

Professor Dr Vimala Veera Raghavan, Emeritus Professor (Psychology) Education and Dean of Academics at Apeejay Stya University, Gurugram, said that feeling stressed and anxious about exams to a large extent depends on the personality of the student and their interaction with family members and peer groups.

“However, a certain amount of stress and anxiety is essential to perform at one’s best level. Optimal anxiety motivates a person to work to their fullest potential. At the same time, high levels of anxiety can cause a person to become confused, forget things they know, and perform at a lower standard,” Dr Raghavan said.

The fear that accompanies anxiety, such as ‘I may fail,’ ‘I may forget,’ or ‘I may get confused,’ and the fear of failure can lead to poor performance. “Therefore, anxiety levels beyond a certain point must be prevented to avoid failure,” she opined.

Exam stress differs among college and school students.

Dr Raghavan explained that in school students, the Board exams cause intense anxiety. “This is because admission to higher education institutes and coveted courses like medicine depends on the marks obtained in the Board exams. Every school student struggles to do their best at exams to score high. There is a high degree of stress among school students due to unhealthy competition. In the case of college students, such competition and the struggle to be at the top or the need to score high don’t exist,” she mentioned.

However, college students may also suffer from anxiety in another context when they appear for competitive exams like JEE, NEET, CAT, and UPSC. “In this case, if there is severe competition, it can lead to anxiety. Thus, in both school and college students, anxiety arises due to intense competition and the fear of failure as their future is at stake,” Dr Raghavan shared.

Also, the intensity of anxiety is higher in school students. The pressure from parents on school students adds to the anxiety. “This is relatively less in the case of college students. The self-image and self-esteem of school students depend a great deal on their performance in the Board exams, which is not applicable in the case of college students,” Dr Raghavan said and added that a family support system helps reduce the level of anxiety in school students.

“However, college students, being considered grownups, are expected to be independent and thus do not have the needed support system. Hence, they suffer from relatively greater anxiety,” she revealed.

Anxiety affects college students in the following ways

·         Affects their interpersonal relationships across family and peer groups.

·         Affects their heterosexual relationships.

·         Affects their ability to maintain focus.

·         Makes them miss classes and assignments.

·         Causes them to lose confidence in themselves.

·         Leads to low self-esteem and self-image.

·         Leads to feelings of isolation as they are away from family and friends.

·         Leads to self-critical thoughts affecting self-image.

·         Causes worry about their future, career, and growth prospects.

Dr Raghavan also said that there are different types of anxiety that college students may face, and it is important to identify their nature before they can be tackled.

Also Read: Cope with the stresses in life with cognitive and emotional well-being

Different types of anxiety faced by students include

Anticipatory anxiety: Anxiety about certain events that may happen.

Separation anxiety: Anxiety caused by the separation from parents and peers due to shifting to a hostel for higher studies.

Test anxiety: Anxiety about appearing for a test or exam and the resulting fear of failure.

Social anxiety: Anxiety about the impression they create among their peers and authority figures.

Strategies to reduce anxiety and stress

1.      Identify the anxiety.
2.      Label the anxiety.
3.      Understand the anxiety and its causes.
4.      Learn to control/regulate one’s emotions
5.      Maintain a balanced diet
6.      Exercise regularly.
7.      Learn to manage stress.
8.      Practice breathing exercises.
9.      Learn mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques.
10.  Enlist the support of parents and set up an acceptable goal. “But there are times when, despite the student’s efforts as mentioned above, the anxiety continues and leads to a disturbance in daily activities. In such a situation, the student must seek the help of a professional for a consultation,” Dr Raghavan said in conclusion.

Shalini is an Executive Editor with Apeejay Newsroom. With a PG Diploma in Business Management and Industrial Administration and an MA in Mass Communication, she was a former Associate Editor with News9live. She has worked on varied topics - from news-based to feature articles.