Sunday, January 23, 2011

Manage exam stress: what Pune’s students need to do

St Germain's
Exams at St Germain's
Pune students need to differentiate true exam stress or test anxiety from rational test anxiety that occurs due to a lack of adequate preparation. Both conditions need to be addressed differently. True test anxiety is diagnosed when the student panics, "blanks out", or overreacts despite the following (Hanoski 2008):
  • there is enough time for studying
  • study strategies are adequate
  • attendance is regular
  • class material is understood

Managing rational test anxiety

(Morgan et al, 1986)
When there is adequate time for preparation effective learning habits minimise rational test anxiety.

Effective learning habits

We begin at this stage if the student comes to the clinic 6-8 weeks before the exams. Acquiring effective study skills is essential for all students.
  • Plan and stick to a study schedule. This simple yet crucial first step is often neglected.
  • Spend at least half the study time in elaborative rehearsal, thinking about what is being rehearsed and relating it to other things that are known or being learnt
  • Organise the study material to form retrieval cues or reminders for recall
  • Get feedback on how well things have been learnt and remembered
  • Review before the exam in the same way things were learnt in the first place. Focus the review on the type of exam.
  • Over learn the material. Go back and re-learn it after a few days.

Prior to the exam

 (University of Illinois)
These techniques are applied 1-2 weeks prior to the exam
  • Avoid "cramming" for a test
  • Combine all the information presented throughout the year. Work on mastering the main concepts.
  • Anticipate questions that may be asked and try to answer them by integrating ideas from lectures, notes, texts, and supplementary readings
  • Select important portions that can be covered well if you are unable to cover all the material given throughout the term, 
  • Set a goal of presenting knowledge of this information on the test.

True (Classic) Test Anxiety

True or classic test anxiety occurs despite effort to study and requires further measures. Again these measures vary as per the phase of the examination.


These measures can be instituted at any time prior to the exam and should become routine for all students.

Adopt a health-promoting lifestyle

Behavioural measures
  • Assertiveness - claim space and environment for study, study materials, access to experts
  • Time management - especially with a view to program adequate study hours by identifying periods in which time is spent on distractions
  • Recreation and social activities - essential for maintaining concentration, and motivation. Should be programmed daily in small quantities
Physical measures
  • Nutrition - don’t skip meals. Eat plenty of fruit and coloured vegetables
  • Exercise - the amount can be varied. Incorporate some stretching exercises and some aerobics like skipping or same place jogging.
  • Relaxation - use a muscle relaxation technique or any form of meditation that doesn't take more than a few minutes
  • Sleep hygiene - for adequate, predictable and refreshing sleep
Cognitive and emotional measures
  • Cognitive restructuring - see the exam as a means not an end. Keep in mind the ultimate goal you are working towards. This goal may differ from those of your parents and school. Aptitude testing, career guidance and counselling help match your expectations and capabilities with that of your family and school.
  • Stress inoculation - take regular mock exams under the same conditions as the actual test
  • Anxiety management techniques

Attention to practical aspects of the exam

  • Find out where the test is scheduled to take place and how long it will take to get there
  • Look at the buildingso that it feels more familiar.
  • Know the rules as to what can be taken into the exam room etc [28].

The Day of the Test

  • Begin the day with a moderate breakfast, avoid coffee
  • Do something relaxing the hour before the test
  • Plan to arrive at the test location early
  • Avoid classmates who generate anxiety

During the Test

There are basic test taking strategies and specific anxiety management techniques that the student needs to learn (Hinton and Casey 2006).
Before answering
  • Review the entire test and then read the directions twice.
  • Think of the test as an opportunity to show what you know then begin to organise time efficiently.
Focusing exercise
  • Take a deep breath. Look straight ahead at something inanimate (the wall, a picture, the clock)
  • Focus the mind on the positive thought 'I CAN DO this exam' while breathing out.
Do the easiest parts first
  • For essay questions start by constructing an outline.
  • For short-answer questions answer exactly what is asked.
  • If there is difficulty with an item involving a written response show some knowledge.
  • If proper terminology evades you show what you know with your own words.
  • For multiple choice questions read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious. If unsure of the correct response rely on first impressions, then move on quickly. Be careful of qualifying words such as "only," "always," or "most."
Stick to time
  • Do not rush through the test.
  • Wear a watch and check it frequently
  • If it appears you will be unable to finish the entire test, concentrate on parts you can answer well.
Recheck your answers only if you have extra time - and only if you are not anxious.

Anxiety management techniques

Learn a few of these techniques and stick to the ones that suit you. Use them whenever you panic while studying or during the exam. If problems persist despite using these techniques there are safe and effective medications that can be used just prior to the exam.
  • Anxiety produces negative thoughts ('I can't answer anything', 'I'm going to panic' etc).
  • Halt the spiralling thoughts by mentally shouting 'STOP!' Or picture a road STOP sign, or traffic lights on red.
  • Once the thoughts are stopped continue planning, or practise a relaxation technique.
Mild pain
  • Pain effectively overrides all other thoughts and impulses.
  • Lightly press your fingernails into your palm
  • Place an elastic band around your wrist and snap it lightly
Use a mantra
  • A mantra is a self-repeated word or phrase.
  • Repeatedly say 'calm' or 'relax' your breath
  • Distract attention from anxious thoughts and keep your mind busy
  • Look out of the window, count the number of people with spectacles
  • Count the number of desks in each row
  • Make words out of another word or title
Bridging objects
  • Carry something having positive associations with another person or place
  • Touching the bridging object is comforting
  • Allow a few minutes to think about the person
  • In exam anxiety or panic there are often negative messages, 'I can't do this' 'I'm going to fail' 'I'm useless'. Consciously replace these with pre-rehearsed positive, encouraging thoughts:
  • 'This is just anxiety, it can't harm me',
  • 'Relax, concentrate, it's will be OK',
  • 'I'm getting there, nearly over'.
After the Test
  • Whatever the result of the test, follow through on a promised reward - and enjoy it!
  • Try not to dwell on all the mistakes.
  • Do not immediately begin studying for the next test. Do something relaxing for a while! (University of Illinois 2007).

Exam stress in students requires active management. State boards are taking exam anxiety and its adverse fallout seriously. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has brought out a handbook, Knowing Children Better, offering information and advice on handling exam stress. When problems persist students and parents should not hesitate to seek psychiatric help (Malhotra 2007).


  1. Geetanjali Kumar. Knowing Children better. CBSE. New Delhi. 2005.
  2. Hanoski TD. Test anxiety: what it is and how to cope with it. Accessed 27-Jul-08.
  3. Hinton A, Casey M. Managing Exam Anxiety and Panic-A guide for students. 18-Sep-2006. Accessed 27-Jul-08.
  4. Malhotra S. Dealing with exam stress amongst students: Challenge for psychiatrists. Abstracts of 59th Annual National Conference of Indian Psychiatric Society. Indian J Psychiatry 2007;49:1-60. Available from:
  5. Morgan CT, King RA, Weisz JR, Schopler J. Introduction to psychology. 7th Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1986
  6. University of Illinois. Test Anxiety. 2007. Accessed 27-Jul-08.