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10 ways to overcome 'exams burnout'

Last updated on: January 9, 2012 11:36 IST

10 ways to overcome 'exams burnout'

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The intense desire to excel in an examination could lead to what is known as 'exams burnout'. With board exams just a month away, Manjiri Gokhale Joshi, author of the book Crushes, Careers and Cellphones shares a 10-point success formula that will help you sail through the stressful times with ease. Illustrations by Uttam Ghosh

Students and parents often describe board exams as 'life-changing'.

Homes are aglow with the Exams' aura' thanks to sustained parental effort at ensuring physical comfort and destroying distractions and the students' incessant intake of knowledge. 

What then could be the decisive success factor for a student to survive this pressure cooker situation without burning out during the crucial race to the finishing line?

The answer could be -- honing of the mind through 'Formula Inspiration'.

Of course, this is no magic formula with a payback guarantee! For 'Inspiration' is not a consumer product to be commoditised, shrink-wrapped and marketed as a success pill. Formula Inspiration is but a set of 10 qualities that have been key ingredients in the success of 23 exceptional Indians featured in a book titled Inspired by Dr Ganesh Natarajan and Manjiri Gokhale Joshi.

Inspired co-author and author of Crushes, Careers and Cell phones, Manjiri Gokhale Joshi explains how imbibing these qualities would be useful to students and parents who have the fervent desire to be outstanding at whatever they do.

Also read: 10 things you MUST do while preparing for board exams




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1. Vision

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"I always dreamt you'd get into the best university son. You just need to put in an extra hour a day and you'll be in there!"

"We've been saving up for years to put you through university. Just plod on and your dream career is on track!"

Sounds irritatingly familiar? In our zeal for giving you a 'future' and all that our parents could give us, we are willing to put everything at stake.

Sometimes, some of us burden you with 'not-so-subtle' words and actions of living our dreams through you. Sure, it is painful.

For you–because you are you, not a subset or an amplified version of what we could have been. For us -- because after sacrificing so much and putting in our very best in what we believe is right for you, we are just left wondering what we did wrong.

Sometimes, the seamless amalgamation of dreams, goals and the arduous path to achieve them creates an impervious layer with no room for the realities of aptitude, natural intelligence or ability to filter through.

Of course, each human being must reach for the stars and match the effort to get there.

But before embarking on the unbridled race to achieve that goal, is it not best to check if the vision for the future is right and that are expectations realistic?

If it is way off the mark, the student may actually spend more time justifying why it cannot be achieved or making excuses for why it cannot be achieved at all.



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2. Focus

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The path to the goal is bound to be hazy and confusing if the goal itself has not been accurately defined. But once the goal is scripted, then comes the plan to get there.

Instead of being overwhelmed by all that you still have left to do, divide the time prior to your exams and set short-term goals and focus on achieving each target.

During the relatively short sprint to the finishing line, there are multiple, often conflicting demands on time. Focus is about defining what needs to be done, what gets priority, what cannot be compromised and what can afford to wait.

When you build the time-table, schedule subjects which you find easy later in the day, the tougher ones first. Some people are born with aptitude for numbers/words/pictures. Even if an education system does not take these differences into account, self study can.

When some things must be learnt by rote -- poems, chemical formulae, mathematical tables, names of structures in biology...the best way to learn these would be to record them and have them played over multiple times when you are not studying proactively (while getting dressed, clearing the room, before falling asleep etc).

Have facts and figures stuck to the refrigerator or your study area. Even if you do not concentrate on what is being said or skim through the list, you will be surprised how much you have already managed to retain. This is the immense power of the subconscious mind.

Every time you achieve one of the short-term goals you have set for yourself, make sure you reward yourself with a quick leisure break or a treat!

With the studies taken care of, make sure you plan the logistics for the period when you appear for the exams well in advance. Have things laid out, not just all that you need to take along to the exam centre, but clothes ironed out for a week, fuel if you use a bike, bus passes and whatever else.

With everything under control, you won't be learning anything new but just testing your knowledge and can actually sleep peacefully the night before D-day!



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3. Commitment

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Is there a successful organisation, a vibrant social movement, a classic movie or an educational edifice created over a lifetime comprising eight-hour work days?

When the goal is to achieve outstanding success, there is no scope for limited offerings. But so consumed are visionaries by their dream, they do not view the offerings of time and effort as a sacrifice.

If there is unwavering focus on the luminescent glow at the end of the tunnel, they remain engrossed in the passage.

Whether this passage entails a time-consuming detour, an unexpected pause to clear impediments, or scratches at the elbows and knees from crouching, they still go on.

You don't need to give your lifetime, but just a few more months to something that will do you a great deal of good. So do yourself a favour and plunge into this headlong!



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4. Communication

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This examination and every examination you will appear for after this will also be a test of your communication skills.

The first essential ingredient of effective communication is to define your target audience. In this case, it is the examiner representing the standard set by the examining body conducting the exams.

There is no use of you knowing anything unless you are able to communicate to the examiner that you know exactly what you are expected to know.

Spending 10 minutes longer on answering a five-mark question you know rather well and then not finishing the paper, is a classic example.

Each examination paper you submit is your window of opportunity to communicate your ability to the examiner.

Focussing on presentation style, neatness, diagrams with clear outlines and labelling and adhering to the writing style expected, is certain to take you a step closer to invoking a positive response from the examiner. After all, the success of communication can only be gauged by the response you get.



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5. Assertiveness

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Are you being compared to someone who is God's gift to parenthood?

Is your choice of subjects really yours or is it just a 'safe' bet that will keep your options open in future?

Are you aiming to take up a particular career because everyone you know is headed in that direction?

Are you attending coaching classes and trying to learn by rote because everyone else is doing it?

Are you also following a method of study that seems to work for everyone else but may not essentially be the most appropriate for you?

If you truly believe in your goal and your chosen path is different from the rest, you need to steel yourself against the non-acceptance and hostility that you are likely to encounter. You cannot afford to be diverted by criticism or dragged backwards by wheels that are firmly stuck in a rut.

However this is not the moment to backtrack from the choices you have already made. Assert your independence in choosing the method you want to study. Inspire confidence through outstanding performance in the short term test results and take these tests frequently.

And no, not appearing for exams or not studying for them is not a choice!



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6. People-centricity

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Then there is the team effort in making your exams happen.

Mums and Dads taking time off from work to be at your beck and call, to maybe drop and pick you up as you write those crucial papers, have your favourite food ready on the table every time you take a break from cramming, foregoing participating in social occasions, television and even the Internet so that you have no distractions!

These parents are not over-reacting; they are simply making sure that they do not fall short of any effort.

But exams' stress need not be an excuse for cutting off all human contact and not being civil to people who would give up anything so that you can focus on achieving your goal.

If there is a shortage of physical space, it is understandable. But do one person's exams justify a ban on internet usage and television for the entire family?

However, if you actually concentrate on what is being taught in class, plan your studies at a casual but steady pace; you will only be revising when the exams draw closer. Your exams will be just yours, not a stressful family event!



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7. Discipline

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Rarely if ever, would you find successful individuals whiling away their time...or overdoing anything.

They are masters of their own time and despite their commitment to realizing their goals, they are not slaves to the demands of work.

How do successful individuals manage to accomplish more in the same span of time as everyone else? They simply create more time for themselves by being up and about when others are still asleep!

Discipline is about training ourselves to do something that is good for us, even if it requires the kind of effort we do not feel inclined to put in.

Even as you focus on the forthcoming exams, do take the effort to understand concepts instead of just learning by rote. Learn for the spirit of learning and then prepare for the sprint.

Solve as many sample papers as you can, but just the guides and 'likely questions' will get you nowhere. If you haven't understood the concepts properly, just one question outside the guidebook will have you stumped.

It does seem so unfair to be judged for a year's work based on a few sheets of paper and in an hour or two. That is really what life is like.

The secret is to plan and prepare, so well in advance that your mind is charged but confident of facing the challenge of the questions that will be asked.

Whatever the subject you study, it's simply not possible to cram it all during the last fortnight and be stress-free! If you expect to study and cram the whole book in a fortnight, the course you are studying would not be a year-long!



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8. Integrity

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With your impatience to quickly get what you want and the energy you can barely contain, you will often get to your destination faster than even you thought possible.

When people try to slow you down during this chase, you would barely have time to catch your breath and would probably have no patience to listen to old-fashioned talk of going slow and steady in this jet age. But as you race towards the finishing line, you need to focus on your goal alone.

Do not try to bypass hurdles by bending low; do not try to kick away the stones on your way into your competitor's path.

You will always have tempting short cuts in your path to success -- a ridiculously simple opportunity to cheat, to access leaked question papers before the exams.

These tactics will always get you what you wanted, faster than hard work and patience ever could. And a series of quick wins will give you the audacity to go for the next shortcut.

Never believe that no one's watching. Life always comes a full circle and if what you have achieved has come your way by cutting short hard work or bending ethics, it is bound to fritter away.

Even if you are singled out for ridicule as being a stickler or a relic of the old days, find the courage to withstand peer pressure.



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9. Optimism

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Why do a majority of people buckle under pressure of external hurdles while a few overcome them?

Super achievers do not waste time lamenting lost opportunities. They simply take on each hurdle as it comes, never question whether the next attempt would be successful, but just keep working to make it happen.

You didn't do well in your mid-term/preliminary exams. You are down in the dumps, frustrated that your efforts went vain, jealous that others you know made it, possibly with much less effort than what you put in. Life just seems so unfair!

Would you fall in the classic trap of convincing yourself and then everybody else with:

"Oh! But the paper was so difficult, even the nerd in our class stepped out of the exam hall in tears."

"These can't be my marks. We should be able to ask for a re-evaluation!" Or would you shift your bar to say, "That graduate school is not that great, why should they expect such high grades for people to get in." "Why should everyone study medicine? I'll just change my choice of subjects."

If you have developed a phobia for a particular subject, focus on a small chapter and test yourself on just that chapter. You are most likely to do well in this test and it will do wonders for your confidence.

If anything, failures are good for you. They'll spur you on! Do give it your best shot at whatever it is you want to achieve in life...it will come to you.



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10. Passion

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Passion is what differentiates the second best from the best, the excellent from the outstanding.

Passionate individuals can be spotted easily in a crowd. The difference is not in the way they look or dress but the sense of purpose they exude.

On a slightly serious note: there are those who work for their exams under a street lamp for want of electricity at home, those who trudge for miles often barefoot or in broken shoes to be able to reach an exam room, those who fight social and cultural barriers, balance domestic responsibilities, wailing children, nursing a sick loved one and still make it to that critical exam.

All you need to do is put aside distractions, study hard and give it your best shot. All the best!

Give it your best shot but always have a second choice handy. If you cannot take up the vocation you always thought you wanted to, wait and look at the second best thing you would like to do.

You will be surprised and thank destiny one day for taking you down the other road. And if you are confused, it is natural...don't worry; you just need to talk things out further.

Sometimes, people decide on a choice of industries. Sometimes, industries decide which people they seek! Hold on...your time will come.

Even in the distilling of these 10 admirable qualities, the need for respecting diversity among students is paramount.

There can never be a one-size-fits-all formula for inspiration. But if you manage to cultivate the ten characteristics as you prepare for your first major examination and then life in general, you may well be on your way to discovering your very own formula for inspiration.



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