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Don't let your board exams stress you out
Chandan Agarwal

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March 10, 2009

The board exams and stress seem to go hand in hand for the vast majority of students who undertake this sort of coming of age ritual across India each year. Lost appetites, under-confidence, nervousness, anxiety and even depression are no strangers to the youngsters who are conditioned to look upon these exams as the be-all and end-all of academic achievements in school.

Not a year goes by without the media reporting a number of suicides and suicidal attempts by children as young as 14 to 17 due to the fear of the boards, or their poor performance in the same. Small wonder then, that the stress inflicted upon these hapless students has become quite a concern for parents, schools and society alike.

These youngsters primarily undergo stress due to two factors. The first is the hype that surrounds the board examinations. While they are no different from the dozens of exams the students have already undertaken during their school life, schools, teachers and parents approach the boards with apprehension akin to fear and this in turn seeps into the students. From the time students enter Class IX, teachers start mentioning their boards looming large next year. Once in Class X, the pressure is relentless, with continual pressure for improved performances in time for the boards.

This attitude is also reflected by parents, who view the boards with trepidation as a good score in Class X alone can ensure admission into a subject stream of choice. For Class XII students also, their score is paramount to gaining entry to the various further studies they aspire to. Hence, the overarching importance of these exams, every school's endeavour to achieve a good result and each parent's desire for their children to do them proud combine to create a tremendous amount of expectation pressure on a youngster. The media plays a part in taking this pressure and beaming it into the minds of millions of people, who may have otherwise remained unaffected, thus creating a self-sustaining cycle.

The second cause of stress is the students' inherent belief in their own capabilities. Given the hype and pressure created, it is easy to start doubting one's own capacity. Coupled with immense amounts of peer comparisons, large amounts of curricular material and long, continuous periods of focussed study, stress generation is inevitable. Students continually study and memorise large amounts of information. Then they undertake practice examinations, in which circumstantial factors can affect outcomes. One minor mistake or poor performance and the student loses confidence, especially if comparisons are made with other classmates.

Alleviation of this stress is not a one shot solution. Careful consideration needs to be given to the students' mental state throughout the year. The hype created around these examinations is perhaps the single largest factor and a responsible outlook needs to be cultivated amongst parents, schools and the media. Similiarly, students also need to harbour self-confidence in their abilities and rise above considering this one milestone in life as the ultimate challenge.

That said, from a practical, do-able perspective, students can follow a few wise practices to alleviate their stress in the days leading up to the exams:

Stress and its alleviation is a highly personal issue and as such different students have different ways of taking on stress and alleviating it. If a student is able to consciously accept that he/ she is stressed, and also communicate this to his/ her parents, then the process of alleviation has already begun. The boards are just one milestone among the many that will be faced in life, and should be viewed and accepted as such, without undue physical or mental turmoil.

Chandan Agarwal is the director of tutorial service Learning Hour, the largest online tutoring services provider in India.

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