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Board Exams, college admissions & the continuous loop of academic stress
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Board Exams, college admissions & the continuous loop of academic stress

Post by on Wednesday, August 3, 2022

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In any Indian students life there are two major milestones one after the other- first 12th Board examination and result and the second the college admissions following it.

Stress, anxiety and peer pressure are the three common threads that come up whenever board examinations or college admissions are discussed.

The last two years have been unprecedented and the entire system of examination has gone through a complete overhaul. In the years of online exams and online mode of distant learning a few things were easier for many and challenging for some. Now that the system is back to the normal before new normal the stress of board examinations and college examination is back in the lives of students.

Board year brings with itself continuous exam stress. Exam stress can be described as the emotional, physiological, and behavioral responses caused by an upcoming test or examination. Previous negative experience of exams, lack of preparation, worry about failure, or intense pressure to perform can be the causes here. This often leads to unmanageable increases in anxiety levels.

Students, who find education a tough task, or those with special educational needs or mental health difficulties, may be more likely to experience academic anxiety. However, so can the toppers and overachievers, particularly students who are raised to be achievers always or whose parents push a huge burden of ambitions on to them.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal part of life. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child classifies stress into three types: positive, tolerable and toxic.

• Positive stress is some degree of stress that can be positive for children and young people and helps them to learn coping skills and develop resilience. This is sometimes also known as eustress.

• Tolerable stress is some kind of temporary stress that can be managed or tolerated particularly if children and young people going through it have developed resilience and are supported by nurturing adult relationships and parenting.

• Toxic stress is dangerous and involves the prolonged activation of stress responses without the benefit of being protected by any strong adult relationships.

Identifying the signs of academic stress

Signs of academic stress can sometimes be difficult to identify. Children and young people may not want to talk about stress they are experiencing. Students who are affected by anxiety and stress about tests/exams/entrance exams may have one or many of the following symptoms:

• Complain of physical health issues (e.g. stomach aches, headaches etc.).

• Have sleeping or appetite-related issue.

• Have severe mood swings such as being tearful, angry or withdrawn.

• Be reluctant to talk about tests and exams.

• Spend too much time on their work or alternatively avoid it completely.

• Be overly self-critical and of any mistakes they make. 

Negative influence of competitive and entrance exams on mental health of students

Young people are living in a culture of competition and detachment like never before, and it can feel like they do not have much control. Moreover, access to a college education can seem way out of reach for those marginalized in any way, and those with less support and encouragement. Many lack a feeling of agency or opportunity.

Peer Pressure/Competition: College admission exacerbates the stress students feel by feeding competition among classmates. From comparing test scores to obsessing about class rank, society creates a Hunger Games environment where students fight against each other sometimes their dearest for a coveted spot at a selective college or university.  “What are your test scores?” “Which colleges are you applying to?” “I am so stressed about college.” These are the questions and refrains commonly heard from students. 

Parental Expectations: The experience of searching for and applying to college can be one that unites a family as you reflect on your values, interests, and opportunities. It also has the potential to be a process full of emotional abuse, shame, fear, and resentment if not handled openly and directly. Parents have a vested interest in the well-being and future of a student, but it can be difficult for them to separate their own sense of self from their children. 

Handy Tips to Manage Admission Stress

Since this stress seems unavoidable. Here are a few suggestions that might help: 

• Breathe and relax. 

• Learn that you can only do what you actually can do. 

• Understand that you’ll keep having these moments of stress, but they’ll go by because they’re simply your feelings. 

• Know that you have no control over what a college decides about your application, and thus stressing over it is pointless. 

• The idea of a “dream college” is a fallacy at best. Instead, student must focus on the courses that lead to a profession which you find are fit for you. 

• Make a list of the available courses and consider the colleges which might actually accept your application. 

In addition students must take care of their physical health as well by:

• Consuming healthy food.

• Stepping outdoors and enjoying nature.

• Singing, dancing, or doing any other activity which you think might relieve you and draw your focus away from the admissions. 

• Talking to a therapist or counselor if needed and sharing with them in detail what you're feeling. 

• Practicing meditation, or else reading a book that relaxes you. 

• Making a list of the things that you’re grateful for. Studies show that if we train our brain to focus on such things we become much happier. 

• Taking breaks whenever you feel you need to recharge your brain's battery. 

• When and if you start doubting yourself, diverting your mind to think of what good things you have going on in your life.

• Giving yourself some time to discover your interests. 

• Socializing and getting away from books from time to time.

What can parents do for the mental health and overall well-being?

Parents are the mainstay of any young person’s hopes and aspirations in crucial times like board exams and college admissions. They first need to work on themselves and manage their own stress, so that it doesn’t rub on to the student and make their task tougher. 

Sadly much of the stress to go to a top-tier university is coming from parents, rather than schools. This turns high school into a rat race to college. Many of these parents don’t realize that a teen is more than their marks or the college that they are accepted to.

Here are a few small actions that parents can take in order to make these challenging times easier for their wards:

• Listen to your child. Find out what are their hopes and fears. Try to facilitate as much as you can or support them in seeking professional help.

• Be a guide and a facilitator, connecting your child to information and to the bigger-picture is crucial. You have more experience of life and the world, offer them that.

• Don’t shame the child for their marks or grades. Instead support them for a future beyond this.

• Put the focus on finding the right college for your child, not on applying to or getting into the “best” college.

• Unclutter your own anxieties; make sure you’re hearing your child’s wishes and considering their best interests, not enforcing them through your own hopes, peer-driven status worries, or your own unmet expectations.

• Prioritize quality, not quantity, when it comes to extracurricular activities. 

• Prioritize whatever that your child finds meaningful.

• Ensure your kids are eating and sleeping well.

Board exams and results followed by college admissions are just a few milestones of anyone’s journey and shall be treated as such. They cannot become one’s entire life.

If any teenager/ young person or parent is facing such stress they can contact:

Icall Helpline 022-25521111 or Arpan helpline +91 98190 86444

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