With the commencement of the new academic year, incomes exam season and with it the general performance anxiety. In the exam season, students are often seen lost in the race to get to the top or sometimes to just get by. Pacing about armed with books, highlighters and sometimes, coffee, it is quite the sight to behold. On the contrary locked doors and an unspoken ‘do not disturb’ sign hanging in the heaviness of the air is just as common. It is well established that a testing scheme that lacks the means of evaluating a student’s skillset without term-end flogging promotes rote-learning and lack of application-based learning. With such a testing scheme being the main hurdle for the advancements in the Indian Education system, it is of no surprise that a good number of its students are the victims of test anxiety.
Having a bit of pre-test nervousness is said to be normal and to an extent healthy, as it enhances a student’s performance. Test anxiety is when a student continues to suffer from debilitating feelings of fear and worry while dreading the outcome. This can negatively impact the overall performance and more importantly an individual’s health. Fears of failure, procrastination, poor performances in previous tests are often found to be the causes of test anxiety. However, the primary cause is said to be parental pressure and the constant (conscious or unconscious) need to rival whom we know to be ‘Sharmaji ka beta/beti’- the prodigal peer. Equating an individual’s self-worth to their academic performance and drawing not-so-subtle comparisons is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence in Indian households. In a recent survey, it was reported that around 66 per cent of students admitted to being pressurized by their parents for better academic performance. It was also found that the pressure from non-graduate parents was more compared to those who were graduates and postgraduates. Oftentimes, it is observed that unhealthy sibling rivalry catalyzes an individual’s constant need to please a family that projects its highest insecurities in the form of unrealistically ideal expectations. With the very idea of gaining knowledge or skills out the window, students plagued by test anxiety find tests to be yet another personal battle to fight.
Manifestations of test anxiety are often neglected, even with their patterned onset. A student suffering from test anxiety has what is termed as ‘physiological over-arousal’. It includes headaches, nausea, sweating, stomach aches, and rapid heartbeat and in severe cases can lead to panic attacks. The common complaint of those prone to test anxiety is their tendency to ‘go blank’ or ‘to freeze’. This cognitive symptom is reported even though the student was prepared for the test. In terms of behavioural indications, anxious students are found to have a fear of impending doom, negative self-talks, self-condemnation, self-harm, lack of concentration and a catastrophic expectation of the results. Emotionally, these individuals exhibit low self-esteem, depression and anger. All of the above coupled with poor eating habits, inadequate sleep and lack of exercise leads to a traumatic test-taking experience. Aside from the risk of poor performance in said tests, there is an overall deterioration in the physical and mental health of the individual which might carry forward for long durations of time, thus reducing the overall quality of life.
Putting aside the generic suggestions which include ‘eat right, sleep right, take a walk’ etc, it is vital to have a hands-on approach towards dealing with test anxiety and this requires us to understand test anxiety. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of students experiencing this- high performers and the underprepared. High performers are generally well prepared and need to work on keeping a sound body and mind. Underprepared students, on the other hand, require proper conditioning where they need to learn to study beforehand, avoid procrastination to be better equipped to face their tests. Families are often advised to keep a lookout for signs of learning disabilities as they require a different approach to preparation. When it comes to de-stressing, having a small amount of time allotted for practising any form of meditation such as Pranayama or mindfulness can work wonders as it calms the mind and also helps you prioritize your tasks. Last but not least, is to seek professional help, if necessary. There are several services available online such as Vandrevala Foundation which provides round the clock counselling services for free. With the rise in mental health awareness, several schools and colleges now have counsellors who are professionally trained to help students with issues such as test anxiety and other problems they might face academically or personally.
Above all, it should be noted that failure is a part of life. Lack of acceptance of failure and refusing to recognise the shortcomings which lead to it can hamper the process of learning which defeats the very purpose of education. Erudition is a quality that cannot be quantified. It is attained through sincere efforts and true passion. Thus, it is of paramount significance for all students (and parents) to understand that academics are a part of life and are not life itself.