It is the exam and assessment season once again. Visit any home with a young adult and you will see that life practically comes to a halt around this time of the year for every member of the family. Whether it is meal timings, family gatherings or festival celebration, everything gets structured around the examination schedules of the student, especially if this student belongs to the fateful group that is appearing for board exams. Sometimes, in the entire hullabaloo, the student develops exam or test anxiety – an extra demon to beat in the wake of all the pressure that comes with appearing for examinations in our nation.
Test or exam anxiety is a combination of physical and psychological symptoms that manifest differently in various individuals. In my experience as a psychologist who works closely with cases of exam anxiety, I usually see a peak in such cases right before exams are about to begin, particularly in the period January to March. All through the academic year, parents and teachers rarely talk about exam performance and a child is exposed to all dimensions of the student life. But come January, when the academic year is about to come to a close and end-of-the-year assessments start doing their rounds, everyone is only talking about marks and percentages and future prospects; which really adds up to the mind boggling pressure that students face these days.
Let me give you some examples from my counseling sessions and you will get a better idea of the varied ways in which exam anxiety manifests. The examples below are two variations of exam anxiety, often experienced by students.
Daniel*, an all rounder who displays a really good understanding of his subject matter is appearing for his class 12 exams. He is excited to note that he knows answers to all the questions in the paper but when he begins to write, he draws a blank and comes back with an unfinished paper.
Shreya*, a 10th standard student has been average in studies throughout her academic life, and her parents don’t mind as long she passes satisfactorily. A month before the exams, Shreya, who was usually easy going about her exams, develops extreme anxiety and experiences panic attacks every time she thinks about her exams. She tries to study late into the nights, but her thoughts run wild after focusing on the study matter for 5 to 10 minutes. She is also experiencing sleepless nights.