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Pre-Examination Stress: Good or Bad?

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be”, you explain to your stressed-out self. You repeat this a million times, while mentally calculate the time duration of all the television series you’ve watched this semester, and then imagining how different your life would have been had you spent even half of [insert three-digit-number] hours studying for the exam tomorrow. Now you have notes of three different topics laid out in front of you, and you can’t seem to read any of them because your vision has begun to blur after having had practically no sleep in the past 48 hours. There’s a new text message on your phone, and now you spend the next half hour lamenting about exams, the education system, your professors, the classmate who’s already prepared and sound asleep now, before finally accepting your difficult situation. And with a strong cup of coffee in hand, you decide to blink through the night, because desperate times need desperate measures.

Relatable story? Not surprised.

Actually, the accusation for this panic needn’t necessarily go only to Torrent downloads. There could have been friends who desperately needed your company, a college society that became too engaging, an interest that had to be nurtured, readings that were far too intimidating, a professor who never turned up for class or a person who broke your heart; it could even be the mosquito who gave you dengue. ‘Studying irregularly’ is a complex phenomenon to explain. In all cases, the judgement does not seem to be in your favour. So you become anxious and the stress levels naturally go up.


But, how evil is your stress anyway? A 2011 study in England states that pre-examination stress actually increases the memorising capacity of students. This is because stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline alter neurons’ functioning in the brain and enhance learning ability, which increases when there’s a deadline to meet. The brain retains the things it learns under stress because, it likes remembering unpleasant memories over pleasant ones. This is great news, for it explains how a majority of students managed to clear last semester. So if you do put in one humongous effort, the exams may even turn to be much better than how you see them now.

But is attending college just about clearing exams? What about actual education? With the assurance of pulling it through in the eleventh hour, many don’t go through the process of complete learning, which makes them miss out on a great deal. While adrenaline and cortisol may help one remember facts and formula, they also together bring down one’s emotional and creative prowess. This means that last minute cramming may help us clear papers, but it will not render us experts in our subjects. Because, for our minds to configure complex and creative problems, it requires a stress-free, pleasantly distracted environment; a Princeton University study actually proves this. The eleventh-hour stress is maybe not students’ best friend after all.


Exam stress might help you sail through but adds nothing to you knowledge base. (Image Source: rooms4u.co.uk)

But once at the edge, how do students respond to the pressure? Students who are under examination stress shouldn’t really be messed with. Some may break into tears, a few will ignore you and continue solving their equation, quite a few of them will start a monologue interspersed by cuss and well, a couple of them may just hurl their readers at you. Where some students begin to work relentlessly, others may just decide to cave in. But the reality is that these are just examinations. They may seem like waters too treacherous to wade through, but you can survive a swim across them, only if you are willing to try.

In case you are one of these above mentioned students (or part of an uncharted category), and if you are already in the midst of your exams, the best ammunition you have right now is your will power and all the time you have left. Plan and strategise your moves, but don’t stop at that. And if stress begins to bug you too much, maybe these ideas will help.

(Image source)

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