How to handle exam stress during the COVID-19 pandemic ?

By Dhara Tandon

Stress is an integral part of our everyday life, and it’s something we all have to deal with in life almost every day. We don’t, however, have to let it take away the best of us. Examination stress is one of such stress that troubles almost every student, whether appearing for school exams or university exams and students have been facing a lot of mental stress due the uncertainty of their future during the pandemic.

The amount of mental stress that students are going through is due to various reasons. The ones who appeared for entrances, did so during the lockdown under novel and difficult circumstances. College students are having difficulty adjusting to the online method of attending classes. Some of them don’t even have the devices to support this medium of education and those who do have, need to adapt to sitting patiently in front of a screen and concentrate for hours at a stretch. This format of learning is something that they have never been exposed to before. Financial burden owing to layoffs in the pandemic is further adding to woes of many youngsters.

Home is another aspect of normalcy that has been taken away from student’s daily lives. Friendships are an important contributor towards factors such as healthy cognitive development, and for fostering skills such as empathy, conflict resolution and decision making.

The pandemic is technically being managed under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Act. But there is insufficient decentralized autonomy, which can enable different states and local authorities to respond differently. So not all states can ensure the same level of safety and anxiety-free environment for all students across the country. Besides, some parts of the country have increasing infection rate, thus having higher risk.

With numerous distractions, it is common to lose focus every few minutes and feel frustrated. This can lead to further stress, which reduces retention power. It’s important to recognize that these are challenging times that you could not have prepared for. It’s okay if this has had an impact on how you are feeling about your exams. It is completely normal, but there are some things that might be useful to keep in mind.

Preparing for exams can be stressful at the moment but there are some things that may help :

Managing feelings of stress around your exams

Focus on what you can control

In times of uncertainty it’s natural for us to think about, or worry about what might happen in the future. For lots of us, this can be unhelpful as we are worrying about something that we cannot influence or control. When it comes to your exams, focus on what you can control and try to prepare for your exams as if they are going ahead. Although this is not an easy task, it is the easiest way to try and keep our minds on track and keep motivated.

Mindfulness can be a good way to become aware of our thoughts and keep us focused on the present moment.

Try to create a routine and study space

Keeping a study routine is a helpful way of staying on track. Put together a study timetable with time slots to focus on different subjects and schedule regular breaks. This can help manage feelings of stress as you know you have a plan in place with time given to each subject you are studying. If you have a place in your home where you can make your own study space this can really help. Research has shown that when we study in an environment similar to the one where you will do your exams, it can help us when trying to remember information. If possible try to study somewhere with little noise or distractions and away from where you would normally relax.

Ask for support from those you live with

Due to social distancing, you are probably spending a lot more time, possibly in limited space, with your family. Spending time with the same people for a long period of time can be difficult, especially while trying to study. Try explaining to your family how important it is for you to have a quiet space without distractions. Ask if they can help you to create a study space away from others in the house. During these times we may need to be creative about how or where we study – even if that means setting up a homemade desk for yourself.

Set realistic goals

Set your goals according to your potential and priorities. Having realistic targets keeps you motivated and helps you focus better rather than getting worked up over unrealistic goals. Stick to specific short-term goals and work towards them with a proper study plan.

Take breaks

If we are feeling stressed or anxious about exams we can sometimes get too focused on the amount of time we are sitting at a desk studying. No matter how motivated we are, there is only so long we can focus on and actually take in information. Taking regular breaks is critical for us to be able to process and remember new information. When you do take a break, move away from the space you are studying as much as possible, so you recognise and feel that you have taken a break. Getting out and getting fresh air or doing some exercise, even if it is for a short time, is good for our wellbeing.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Remember that you are in a situation that you could never have prepared for when it comes to doing exams. It’s understandable if you have days where you feel stressed, or unmotivated or unsure how you feel. These are all normal feelings to have. Try to do as much as you can to stay focused and doing a little each day should help you to feel less stressed in the long run.

Talk to someone

If you feel you are becoming overwhelmed with feelings of stress around your exams it’s important that you try to talk to someone. Sharing this with someone else can help you feel better and it means that you will have the support of that person over the next few weeks and months when it comes to exams.  

Sleep well 

Sleep improves attention and concentration. Lack of sleep affects your mood, focus, and motivation. Getting adequate sleep by going to bed early helps in better retention of all that is studied. Hence, ensure you sleep at least 7-8 hours every day.

Keep away from social media

The numerous distractions that come from your phone and other electronic gadgets are the biggest barriers to maintaining concentration. Engaging in negative social media news during these gloomy times may affect your mental health even more. There’s been more negative energy than ever before on social media platforms since people all over the world have been dramatically affected by this pandemic. So, stay away from social media as much as possible and try to focus on more real things in life and appreciate and celebrate this time off with your family.

Be Positive

Results suggested a negative impact of E-exams on students. Robust exam platform and remote mock E-exams are recommended to reduce students’ potential stress. A stress-free environment is very essential to encourage students to adopt remote E-exams, particularly if the pandemic will take longer. Various awareness programs about students’ habits related to dietary, sleep quality, physical activity and smoking are highly valuable for student’s health benefits.

Always be positive and believe in yourself to achieve excellence in all that you do. Positive thinking is very important for a successful life. A positive thinker always makes best out of every situation. Spend time with people who have a positive effect. It will rub off on you. Keep all unimportant and negative thoughts at bay. Avoid negative thoughts, such as ‘Everyone else seems better organized, while I’m struggling.’  Rather challenge such thoughts with positive thinking; for example, ‘I have done well in exams before.’ Be confident and believe in yourself.

Given the current pandemic and the uncertainties associated with it, students will likely be feeling stressed as their complete study schedule has turned topsy-turvy. As we are all adapting to the circumstances, we must recognize that it is a difficult situation and find ways to keep ourselves motivated and on track with our goals. Students must keep their long-term ambitions in mind and supplement their study efforts with a healthy diet, proper hydration, exercises, and fun activities to break the monotony. Moreover, it is equally important for teachers and parents to give unconditional support and positive reinforcement for students.

This pandemic is proving to be one hell of an examination. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient. Also, taking care of yourself can better equip you to take care of others. During times of social distancing, it is especially important to stay connected with your friends and family. Helping others cope with stress through phone calls or video chats can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely or isolated. Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

So, to all the students out there, while modeling good behavior and staying safe yourself, recognize that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Another thing you can’t control? The uncertainty about what comes next. Instead of worrying about our ambiguous future, focus on solving immediate problems. We will come out of this in perhaps a more whole state and with a renewed perspective. It’s important to look towards the future and begin building for that future. You will have your studies, career, work everything back on track. It will take some time but it will happen. You can always have hope. Hope never leaves us.

“It’s important to remember that this will pass sooner or later”.

Best of luck!!

10 thoughts on “How to handle exam stress during the COVID-19 pandemic ?

  1. I am really happy to see someone addressed the topic so well it seems like a normal one for others but really impactful for the students it boosts their way of thinking and help them excel in exams really proud of you dhara😌❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well written Dhara…The points which you have mentioned will not only help students in there exams but will also help individual to be more positive in many ways!..keep writing… always remember one step at a time🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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