Surviving post-exam anxiety

Published May 18, 2024
Illustration by Faraz Ahmed
Illustration by Faraz Ahmed

Being a student is like riding a never-ending emotional roller­coaster! With ups, downs, twists and turns — you get the whole package. Thrills, chills, fear and cheers — yes, it’s all part of the wild ride that shapes who you become. But trust me, no other phase can match the intensity and emotional turmoil of the examination period.

Exams in academic life are not just a test of knowledge, but a trial by fire, pushing you to the limits both mentally and physically. First, when the dreaded exam days get closer, anxiety levels rise and tension fills the air, making it feel like a dark cloud hanging over you continuously that is ready to pour on you with its full might.

Many of you who are sensitive at heart, start having trouble sleeping even a couple of weeks before the exams, especially when the syllabus for exam preparation is handed over to you. You might experience all sorts of emotions, from feeling confident to doubting yourself. But come what may, you appear in the exams and keep pushing your limits.

And when the exams are over, a moment of silence surrounds and you take a sigh of relief, but immediately after the momentary relief passes, you feel uneasy — because another wave of stress is waiting to wash you away.

Now begins the agonising wait for results. Your mind enters a twister of thoughts and feelings as relief mixes with anxiety. You obsessively analyse your performance, second-guessing answers and kicking yourself over silly mistakes. So even when the exams end, it doesn’t feel like it’s over. Many students still have dreams, rather nightmares, of sitting in the exam room filling answer sheets, or losing their stationery and searching corridors while others finish their papers.

Meanwhile, the feeling of anxiety takes a new form, with ‘what ifs’ that overwhelms your sane mind. “If I had added this line, it would have answered the question perfectly!” or “Wish I had not skipped that topic!”

These doubts make it hard to relax, even when surrounded by friends and family. You find yourself still mentally in the exam room. Books and notes seem to spin around your head in the days leading up to the results.

Many of you would be going through this wait right now. The minutes and hours feel like an eternity as the report day gets closer. You’re stuck in limbo, neither succeeding nor failing, just the feeling of uncertainty. To add to your stress, social media and group chats become a minefield of rampant rumours and speculations about paper difficulties and marking schemes.

As the process and systems are different in schools across the country, some kids have to wait for a week while others receive their results a couple of days after the exams. Unsurprisingly, the longer the wait, the more intense the stress level becomes.

The time between exams and getting results, even though it’s temporary, can affect us. It shapes how we feel about school and how we deal with tough times for a long time. Every student goes through this tough journey at some point. The important thing is how one survives in this phase.

So, my friends, no matter how you did, it’s important to think about this journey with wisdom.

Imagining different result possibilities

While waiting for your exam results, it’s very normal to imagine different possible outcomes in your mind. You might picture getting the best scores and becoming the topper. Or you might worry about failing badly. Thinking about these different ‘what-ifs’ scenarios is something every student goes through.

Visions of grand success pump you up and keep you motivated to work hard. However, being overly confident about an ideal outcome can also make the real results disappointing if they don’t match your high expectations.

On the other hand, constantly thinking of failing badly can drain your confidence level. Negatively imagining the worst case scenario over and over breeds self-doubt. This anxiety can make you underperform by heightening exam stress.

The key is to find a smart balance and instead of imagining the extremes of being a topper or failing, tell yourself “I prepared well and will likely get a decent score, but there’s also room to do better next time.” This middle-ground perspective is healthier.

Illustration by Faraz Ahmed
Illustration by Faraz Ahmed

Rumours and exchanging stories

After exams, it’s common for students to start discussing and speculating about the exam papers, marking schemes and possible results. While this post-exam analysis and friends’ discussion may seem harmless, they soon start colouring your expectations about the results. If most friends feel a particular paper is very difficult, you might convince yourself that your score will be poor. This can happen even if you prepared well and did well, simply because everyone was saying the paper was difficult.

Similarly, if the high scorers seem confident about topping, you might unnecessarily start doubting your performance. The views of your mates unintentionally get imprinted on your thoughts. The key here is to not get caught up in overanalysing the exam paper or marking schemes. It often leads to more doubt and anxiety.

Besides talking directly, there are often rumours going around groups and social media about how hard the exam papers are and how low the expected scores will be. For example, someone might say, “I heard from a friend’s cousin that the math exam will be graded super strictly this time, with no leniency!”

This misinformation gets spread like wildfire and becomes exaggerated. It increases everyone’s anxiety based on their friends’ worries rather than facts.

In situations like this, don’t panic or make guesses yourself. The best thing is to stay calm and free your mind from doubts. Think that whatever your result ends up being, you’ll deal with it and learn from it.

Parents and their expectations

A voice that weighs more than anyone in the world is our parents’. Although they are our well-wishers, sometimes overbearing, parental expectations can feel like an added emotional pressure.

There is no doubt, your parents may have high hopes for your exam scores. This desire is rooted in love and wanting the best for you. However, many of you may perceive these hopes as intense expectations that you must meet at any cost. This is where you experience mental stress.

Listen, kids, you must not view it this way. Your parents only want you to shine, and not fall behind. They want to understand your needs before exams and want to help take away all your stress. Remember, it is not just you worried about your exams, your parents are equally concerned about your future and performance, not just adding pressure.

After the results are announced

When the wait is finally over and the results are out, no matter how you did, it’s important to think about this journey with wisdom.

Congratulations to those who cleared their exams with flying colours. But don’t brag about it, stay humble and use this motivation for your future goals.

But those who are not happy with the results, or perhaps have failed, don’t lose heart. Every setback gives you a chance to learn and grow stronger than before.

Academic prowess is important, but you always have the chance to start over again. Your potential goes beyond any score. Use this experience as a stepping stone in your road to success, not the end of the road.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself and remember that you have successfully made it through the stressful period of exams and the time after the exams.

Stay focused on your future and long-term goals. Believe that you can make them happen by working hard. This is not the end of the road for you; it’s just the start of a brand-new path that can lead you to amazing new opportunities.

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 18th, 2024

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