Breaking the Chains of Exam Stress.

A National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) survey released in September 2022 stated, "About 80 percent of students in grades 9-12 suffer from anxiety due to exams and results."

Anxiety, a major mental health disorder, the symptoms of which include, but are not limited to increased heart rate, palpitations, lightheadedness, excessive sweating, trembling and god forbid if this turns into a full fledged panic attack. Imagine a 14 year old, going through these very intense and real symptoms in the name of exams. What causes them to feel this way? What causes them to go through it all so intensely? Is it all their doing or are there higher things at play here?

Let us dive into the world of students, enter their world and watch it with their lens, let us make this attempt to see with their eyes, how do these 12 years old come to the breaking point where they feel there is no way out but to end it all.

In such a scenario, even if the parent’s and the teacher’s try to be there for the child in every way possible, will the child actually ever be able to escape from the facade and the race of grades? Any student of class 12th, irrespective of who they meet or where they go, a constant question directed their way will be how are the preparations for your exams going? How much did you score in your prelims? Is there any escape from these concerns and questions, and will this child ever be able to escape this pressure cooker of a world that has been created all around him?


I recently came across a student, preparing for her boards. I visited her place and there was an expectation at my end for her to indulge in a fun little conversation, but all she could talk about in her little 4 minute break was the schedule for her next coaching, what she had assigned from her previous coaching. A certain dullness was there on her face, the kind which you would expect to see on a 35 year old working man’s face, all tired from his monotonous routine and pressure to feed the family and get the bonus and appraisal to feed his family. Having dark circles under her eyes and stressed lines all over her forehead, it seemed like the pressure of the whole world was placed on her small shoulders, the pressure which was getting heavier by the day. Now don’t get me wrong, her parent’s never even tried to place any expectation or pressure on her in terms of grades and exams, on the contrary they were extra supportive, the mother telling her daughter to miss the tuition, take a break and eat something. I wondered what was driving this child, what was making her compromise on her sleep, food, fun, her innocence. As it turns out, she was one of the top scoring students from her batch. The school turned this into an opportunity, by picking up 5 students who had the potential for being toppers. These selected few students were pulled out from the crowd, teachers were paying special and extra attention to them, making sure all their doubts were being cleared. They were made to stay late in the after hours of school, this would've also been overlooked, but it’s the next thing that was concerning and dangerous, all of these students had to continuously keep giving mock papers, till they were able to score 100 out of 100 in all the subjects. This was done in a rigorous and repetitive way where all those who scored a 100 were let go, and this girl who was stuck on one subject was made to stay back at school till 10PM.

The mother wanted to call the school and scold them, for their unconventional and harsh ways, but she was stopped by the daughter herself as she had already been sold the dream of being a topper. So now this 17 year old wakes up at 5 to go to her tuition, comes back, gets ready while having breakfast and rushes to the school and stays there till 3 PM. She returns home, grabs a rushed lunch to again go to another tuition followed by the school finally coming back home by 11 PM, completely exhausted and drained with homework for the next day. The dark circles under her eyes, bigger and darker than the night sky, barely able to keep her eyes open while doing her homework.



Exam periods are a significant aspect of students' academic journeys, yet they often bring along a considerable amount of stress. This phenomenon is not isolated; rather, it's a prevalent issue experienced by a substantial number of students. The weight of academic expectations, coupled with the need to perform well in exams, contributes to heightened stress levels among the student community.

The prevalence of stress during exam periods is a noteworthy concern that transcends various educational settings. It manifests in different ways, impacting not only the mental and emotional well-being of students but also influencing their overall academic performance. The pressure to excel, coupled with the fear of failure, creates a challenging environment that many students grapple with during these critical times.

Recognizing the prevalence of stress during exams is a vital step in fostering a supportive and conducive learning environment. By understanding the factors that contribute to this stress and implementing effective strategies to alleviate it, educational institutions can play a crucial role in promoting the well-being and success of their students. Addressing this widespread issue requires a holistic approach that considers not only academic performance but also the mental health and resilience of students during challenging periods.

Embarking on the academic journey, students often find themselves navigating through a maze of challenges, and one notable hurdle that stands out is the pervasive stress experienced during exam periods. Picture this: it's the night before a crucial exam, and students across the campus are huddled over their textbooks, notes, and perhaps a cup of coffee, grappling with the impending pressure.

In this shared experience, the palpable stress during exam times becomes a universal narrative. The tension is not merely confined to the pages of textbooks but extends to the very air students breathe as they prepare to showcase their knowledge. This scenario is not unique; it's a chapter in the lives of countless students who find themselves entangled in the web of academic expectations and performance anxiety.

Examining the prevalence of stress during these pivotal periods unveils a broader narrative, one that demands attention and understanding. Beyond the academic rigors, the emotional toll becomes evident, prompting us to explore the multifaceted dimensions of this shared experience. Let's unravel the layers of stress that cloak students during exams, recognizing the impact it has on their well-being and academic endeavors.

Importance of Addressing Exam Stress


As students embark on the challenging journey of academia, a common adversary looms large in the minds of many—exam-related stress. This formidable force has the potential to not only impact academic performance but also to cast a shadow over the mental and emotional well-being of individuals navigating the demanding landscape of education. Understanding and, crucially, addressing this pervasive stress becomes paramount for educational institutions and students alike. It goes beyond the confines of examination halls, delving into the core of a student's experience and shaping the environment in which knowledge is imparted. In exploring the significance of comprehending and mitigating exam-related stress, we unravel the threads that connect academic success, mental resilience, and the overall richness of the learning journey. The significance of addressing exam stress goes beyond mere academic concerns; it encompasses the holistic well-being and success of students. Recognizing and effectively dealing with exam stress is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Mental Health Impact: Exam stress can take a toll on students' mental health, leading to anxiety and even depression. By addressing this stress, educators contribute to fostering a mentally healthy environment, promoting positive well-being among students.
  2. Academic Performance: Persistent stress during exams can hinder cognitive function and concentration, ultimately affecting academic performance. Addressing stress ensures that students can perform to the best of their abilities and showcase their true potential.
  3. Long-Term Learning: Managing stress during exams allows students to cultivate effective study habits and coping mechanisms. These skills extend beyond exams, contributing to a foundation for lifelong learning and resilience in the face of challenges.
  4. Building Resilience: Learning to navigate and overcome exam stress instills resilience in students. It equips them with valuable life skills to handle pressure in various situations, a crucial aspect of personal and professional development.
  5. Creating a Supportive Environment: Institutions that address exam stress actively contribute to creating a supportive learning environment. This not only enhances the overall student experience but also fosters a culture where individuals feel heard and understood.
  6. Enhancing Student Satisfaction: A comprehensive approach to managing exam stress improves overall student satisfaction. Students are more likely to thrive in an environment where their well-being is prioritized, leading to a positive perception of their educational experience.

Reducing Dropout Rates: Persistent exam stress can contribute to students feeling overwhelmed and disheartened, potentially leading to higher dropout rates. By addressing stress, institutions can play a role in retaining students and ensuring their successful academic journey.

The impact of stress on academic performance and overall well-being cannot be overstated, as it weaves its intricate threads through the fabric of a student's educational journey. Academic performance, the cornerstone of a student's experience, bears the weight of stress in multifaceted ways. As stress levels rise, the cognitive functions required for effective learning, retention, and recall are significantly hindered. The mind, clouded by anxiety, struggles to process and organize information cohesively, leading to diminished academic outcomes. This compromised performance, often fueled by the fear of failure, creates a detrimental cycle where stress begets underperformance, further exacerbating the initial anxieties.

Beyond the tangible impact on academic results, stress permeates the very essence of a student's overall well-being. Mental and emotional health, vital components of a fulfilling and enriching educational experience, can suffer in the face of heightened stress levels. The emotional toll of exams, coupled with the pressure to meet expectations, may contribute to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and, in severe cases, depression. The consequences extend to physical health as well, with stress being linked to sleep disturbances, fatigue, and a weakened immune system. The holistic toll of stress on a student's well-being underscores the imperative for educational institutions to prioritize mental health and create a supportive framework that acknowledges and addresses these challenges.

Moreover, stress during exams is not a mere academic inconvenience; it has ripple effects that permeate various aspects of a student's life. Relationships may strain under the weight of heightened emotions, and extracurricular pursuits may take a backseat. This holistic impact necessitates a comprehensive approach in addressing stress, one that considers not only academic support but also mental and emotional well-being. By recognizing the far-reaching consequences of stress on both academic performance and overall well-being, educational institutions can foster an environment that nurtures not just intellectual growth but also the personal development of students. In doing so, they contribute to creating resilient, well-rounded individuals poised for success both within and beyond the academic realm.

Causes of Exam Stress Among Students

As the academic journey unfolds, students often find themselves traversing the challenging terrain of exam stress, a formidable adversary that casts a shadow over the pursuit of knowledge. The origins of this stress are multi-faceted, rooted in a complex interplay of various factors that converge to create a perfect storm in the minds of learners. Understanding the causes of exam stress is akin to unraveling a tapestry of academic pressures, societal expectations, and individual aspirations. It is within this intricate web that we discover the nuanced reasons that propel students into the throes of stress, shaping their experiences and influencing their approach to academic challenges. Exploring these causes not only sheds light on the multifaceted nature of exam stress but also provides a foundation for instituting meaningful strategies to alleviate its impact.

Academic Pressure

One of the primary contributors to exam stress is the weight of academic expectations that students bear. The constant need to excel, maintain high grades, and meet stringent academic standards often creates an environment of intense pressure. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology found that students who perceived high academic expectations from both parents and teachers reported elevated levels of stress. The pressure to perform well in exams may stem from various sources, including societal norms, parental expectations, and the desire to secure future opportunities. As students navigate a curriculum demanding both depth and breadth of knowledge, the fear of falling short of these expectations becomes a significant source of stress.

The weight of academic pressure not only burdens students intellectually but also inflicts deep psychological wounds. The relentless pursuit of excellence, fueled by societal expectations and parental aspirations, can carve a path of self-doubt and anxiety. Imagine a student, late at night, surrounded by textbooks and notes, grappling not just with complex subject matter but also with the fear of falling short. The constant need to meet lofty standards can chip away at a student's confidence, fostering a sense of inadequacy that resonates in the very core of their being.

Fear of Failure

The fear of failure looms large in the minds of many students and is a potent catalyst for exam-related stress. Students often perceive exams as make-or-break moments that can define their academic trajectory and future prospects. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association indicates that the fear of failure is a significant predictor of academic stress. The pressure to meet high standards coupled with the apprehension about the consequences of failure intensifies stress levels. This fear can be exacerbated by societal attitudes that equate success with academic achievements, creating a daunting backdrop against which students evaluate their own worth.

The fear of failure, a silent specter that haunts every exam season, casts shadows on a student's psyche. It's not merely the dread of a disappointing grade but a fear that their worth as individuals hinges on a singular moment of examination. Picture a student nervously flipping through pages, their heart pounding not just from the academic challenge but from the weight of potential disappointment. The fear of letting themselves and others down becomes a heavy burden that colors their perception of self-worth, fueling a persistent anxiety that lingers long after the exam halls are empty.

Time Constraints

Time constraints, both perceived and real, play a pivotal role in elevating exam stress. The need to cover extensive syllabi within limited time frames, coupled with the pressure of looming deadlines, creates a sense of urgency that can be overwhelming. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Education found that time-related stressors were among the top factors influencing students' stress levels during exams. The prevalence of tight schedules, numerous assignments, and a constant race against the clock contributes to a heightened sense of pressure. The perception that time is insufficient for thorough preparation can trigger anxiety and hinder effective learning.

The ticking clock, an ever-present reminder of the limited hours before an exam, becomes a psychological adversary. Time constraints create a sense of urgency that permeates a student's thoughts, creating a constant undercurrent of stress. Picture a student torn between the desire for thorough preparation and the reality of impending deadlines, the pressure building as each second ticks away. The perception of insufficient time not only fuels anxiety but also instills a pervasive feeling of being overwhelmed, leaving students emotionally exhausted and mentally fatigued.

Competitive Atmosphere

The competitive nature of educational environments can intensify exam stress. Students may feel compelled to outperform their peers, fostering an atmosphere where success is often measured in relative terms. The desire to secure top positions or gain admission to prestigious programs can fuel an unhealthy competition, adding an extra layer of stress. A study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute found that increased competition was linked to higher stress levels among college students. The perception of limited opportunities coupled with a competitive atmosphere contributes to heightened stress as students strive to stand out in a crowded academic landscape.

In the midst of a competitive academic environment, the desire to outshine peers morphs into a relentless pursuit that can erode the emotional well-being of students. The need to excel becomes a continuous comparison, an unspoken race where the finish line is ever-shifting. Envision a student navigating this competitive maze, their sense of self intertwined with how they measure up against others. The constant comparison creates an emotional battlefield where success is fleeting, and the fear of not measuring up to societal expectations becomes a heavy emotional burden.

Lack of Adequate Preparation

Inadequate preparation, whether due to procrastination, unforeseen circumstances, or a perceived lack of resources, is a significant factor contributing to exam stress. When students feel unprepared to tackle the challenges presented by exams, anxiety levels soar. A study in the Journal of College Student Development highlighted that students who reported feeling unprepared for exams experienced higher stress levels. Procrastination, in particular, has been identified as a common behavior linked to increased stress, as students grapple with time constraints resulting from delayed study efforts.

The realization of inadequate preparation dawns like a storm on the horizon, casting a dark cloud over a student's emotional landscape. Procrastination, unforeseen circumstances, or a lack of resources culminate in a moment of reckoning. Picture a student sitting amidst scattered notes, their realization of being underprepared a heavy weight on their shoulders. The emotional toll of this inadequacy reverberates in the anxiety that accompanies the exam, as students grapple with a profound sense of regret and a fear of facing the consequences of unpreparedness.

Poor Past Performance

Previous academic setbacks or poor performance in exams can cast a long shadow, contributing to ongoing stress. Students who have experienced failures or received unfavorable grades may harbor lingering doubts about their abilities, creating a cycle of apprehension before subsequent exams. A study in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that past academic failures were associated with increased test anxiety. Overcoming the psychological impact of previous disappointments becomes a crucial aspect of mitigating stress, as students work to build confidence and resilience in the face of upcoming challenges.

Past academic setbacks, etched in the memory of students, become ghosts that haunt every subsequent exam. Imagine a student carrying the weight of previous failures, the scars of past disappointments a constant reminder of their vulnerabilities. The fear of repeating history becomes a psychological specter, chipping away at the confidence needed to face new challenges. Overcoming the psychological impact of poor past performance becomes a delicate journey, as students strive to rebuild their sense of self-worth and confidence amidst the haunting echoes of past failures.

Unsupportive Learning Environment

The learning environment itself can significantly impact stress levels. An unsupportive atmosphere characterized by inadequate resources, unresponsive teaching methods, or a lack of guidance can amplify exam-related stress. Research published in the International Journal of Stress Management indicates that students' perceptions of their learning environment influence their stress levels. A nurturing and supportive learning environment can serve as a buffer against the pressures of exams.

In an unsupportive learning environment, the emotional toll is palpable. Imagine a student, seeking guidance that seems elusive, or navigating through a sea of academic challenges without a supportive anchor. The lack of resources, unresponsive teaching methods, or unclear expectations create a sense of isolation and insecurity. The emotional landscape becomes one of frustration, as students yearn for support in their academic journey. The absence of a nurturing learning environment leaves students emotionally adrift, struggling to find stability in the tumult of academic pressures.

Understanding the emotional intricacies woven into these factors is crucial for educators and institutions striving to create a supportive learning environment. Beyond the academic challenges, there lies a deeply human experience—a journey marked by self-discovery, resilience, and the delicate balance between success and emotional well-being. As we delve into the psychological impact of these factors, it becomes evident that addressing the emotional needs of students is not just an academic responsibility but a compassionate endeavor to nurture the human spirit within the realm of education.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Physical Symptoms

Fatigue and Sleep Disturbances: The toll of exam stress manifests physically, often leading to fatigue and disturbances in sleep patterns. Picture a student, their eyes heavy from hours of intense studying, grappling with the paradox of feeling both exhausted and unable to find restorative sleep.

Headaches and Tension: Tension headaches become unwelcome companions during times of heightened stress. Imagine a student, temples throbbing, as the pressure of looming exams tightens the muscles in their neck and shoulders, creating a persistent ache.

Digestive Issues: Stress has a way of affecting the digestive system, leading to issues such as stomach cramps, indigestion, or even nausea. Envision a student, nervously anticipating an exam, experiencing physical discomfort as their body reacts to the stressors.

Increased Heart Rate: The physiological response to stress includes an elevated heart rate. Picture a student, moments before entering the exam hall, feeling their heart race, a tangible manifestation of the anxiety that courses through their veins.

Muscle Tension: Stress often manifests as increased muscle tension, creating a sense of physical tightness. Imagine a student, shoulders hunched, unaware of the physical strain resulting from the emotional burden of exam stress.

Emotional Symptoms

Anxiety and Nervousness: Anxiety becomes a prevalent emotional symptom of exam stress, characterized by a sense of restlessness and nervousness. Picture a student, their mind racing with thoughts of the impending exam, unable to shake off the pervasive feeling of unease.

Irritability and Mood Swings: Exam stress can heighten emotional sensitivity, leading to irritability and mood swings. Envision a student, their emotions on edge, reacting with frustration or sudden shifts in mood as the stress takes its toll.

Feelings of Overwhelm: The weight of academic expectations can create a profound sense of overwhelm. Imagine a student, surrounded by textbooks and notes, feeling a surge of helplessness as the sheer volume of information to be covered becomes emotionally daunting.

Self-Doubt and Lack of Confidence: Exam stress often triggers self-doubt, eroding confidence in one's abilities. Picture a student questioning their preparedness, their self-assurance crumbling under the weight of uncertainty and fear.

Depression and Hopelessness: In severe cases, prolonged exam stress can contribute to feelings of depression and hopelessness. Envision a student, overwhelmed by the persistent stressors, grappling with a sense of despair as they navigate the emotional abyss of exam-related challenges.

How do we cope?

Embarking on the journey of exam preparation often feels like navigating uncharted waters, where the waves of stress can be overwhelming. However, armed with effective coping mechanisms, students can transform the daunting exam season into a more manageable and empowering experience. Imagine a student not merely surviving but thriving amidst the challenges, equipped with tools that foster resilience and well-being. Here, we explore some key coping mechanisms that can serve as beacons of support during the storm of exam stress, illuminating a path towards success and emotional balance.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:

Introducing mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques can be a powerful antidote to exam stress. Picture a student taking a mindful pause, engaging in deep breathing or meditation to center themselves amidst the chaos. By incorporating these practices, students can cultivate a sense of calm, helping them approach exams with a focused and composed mindset.

Effective Time Management:

Empowering students with strong time management skills is akin to providing them with a compass through the academic journey. Envision a student adeptly organizing study schedules, breaking down tasks into manageable segments. Effective time management not only ensures thorough exam preparation but also minimizes the anxiety associated with looming deadlines.

Positive Self-Talk and Affirmations:

Encouraging positive self-talk and affirmations can shift the internal narrative from doubt to empowerment. Imagine a student consciously replacing thoughts of inadequacy with affirmations of capability and resilience. Cultivating a positive mindset contributes not only to improved self-esteem but also to a more optimistic approach when facing academic challenges.

Social Support and Connection:

Recognizing the significance of social support creates a robust emotional foundation for students. Picture a student engaging in study groups, exchanging knowledge, and sharing the journey with peers. Establishing connections with classmates, seeking guidance from teachers, and communicating openly with friends and family can provide a vital support system during times of heightened stress.

Physical Exercise and Breaks:

Incorporating physical exercise into the routine becomes a dynamic stress-management tool. Envision a student taking short breaks for a brisk walk or engaging in a quick workout session. Physical activity not only serves as a healthy outlet for stress but also boosts energy levels and enhances overall well-being.

Goal Setting and Realistic Expectations:

Setting realistic goals and expectations acts as a compass, guiding students through their academic endeavors. Imagine a student with clearly defined objectives, understanding that each step contributes to the larger goal. By acknowledging progress and accomplishments, students cultivate a sense of achievement, diminishing the weight of perceived unattainable standards.

Seeking Professional Support:

Fostering an environment where seeking professional support is destigmatized is crucial. Picture a student reaching out to counselors or mental health professionals when the burden of exam stress becomes too heavy. Providing accessible resources for mental health support reinforces the message that asking for help is a courageous and prudent step towards well-being.

As students embrace these coping mechanisms, they not only navigate the challenges of exams more effectively but also develop essential life skills for managing stress in diverse situations. The vision is not just of academic success but of students emerging from the exam season with resilience, a fortified mindset, and the ability to navigate the complexities of their educational journey and beyond.


“Academic competition is fatally frightening, as a bunch of numbers written in red on the top of your paper are capable of making or breaking your image amongst peers, and even society as a greater whole.” 

“Once, I had this really important exam that I worked so hard on. I ignored everything else and put in hours to do well. But when the moment of the exam came, the stress of wanting a perfect score and impressing everyone got to me. I blanked out and forgot everything I had learned for months. I ended up trembling, crying, and feeling sick. It all faded away, and the disappointment on my teacher's face made it worse. They marked it as a failure in my records. How are you supposed to deal with it when something out of your control makes you look 'incompetent' or even a 'failure'? And thinking about it all the time is making it harder for me to focus on my studies. It's like a never-ending problem.”

"My parents made me study a lot for my 10th-grade exams. I barely slept for 5 hours a night. During a biology pre-exam, I knew all the answers but got so stressed that my mind went blank. It made me think about how stress affects us. After that, I changed how I studied. I still worked hard, but I took breaks and relaxed. Exams are important, but so is feeling okay. Finding a balance helped me do better without feeling so stressed. Now, I try to keep this balance in everything I do—working hard but taking care of myself too."

“My younger sibling was the smarter one. I would always feel overlooked when my parents would praise him in front of any relatives that we came across. So, when I decided to take the NEET exam, I put so much pressure on myself that I cut off completely from the world to prepare for the entrance exam. I started skipping meals and used to sleep for only 4 hours. By the time my exams got over, I realized what kind of impact it had on me, not just psychologically but mentally. My body got really weak, as I got my blood test done and the doctor told me I was running low on every nutrient of my body including my hemoglobin, Vitamin D, calcium, to an extent where I had to take supplements and injections for the same.”


Addressing exam stress and fostering a supportive academic environment is not just a compassionate endeavor; it's an investment in the holistic well-being and success of students. The implications of unaddressed stress during exams extend far beyond a temporary period of tension—they can have lasting effects on both academic performance and the overall mental health of individuals.

When exam stress is acknowledged and actively addressed, it paves the way for improved academic outcomes. Students who feel supported and equipped with coping mechanisms are better positioned to handle the pressures of exams. By implementing stress-reduction strategies and promoting mental health awareness, educational institutions contribute to the creation of an environment where students can thrive academically without compromising their emotional health.

A supportive academic environment not only acknowledges the challenges students face but actively works to alleviate them. This involves educators recognizing the diverse needs of students and providing resources for mental health support. It's about creating spaces where seeking help is encouraged, where the stigma surrounding stress and anxiety is dismantled.

Moreover, addressing exam stress is an investment in the long-term success of students. The skills learned in managing stress are not confined to the academic realm; they transcend into the professional and personal aspects of life. Students who are supported during challenging times develop resilience, adaptability, and a robust mindset that serves them well beyond the classroom.

In the broader context, a supportive academic environment contributes to the overall mental health landscape. It sends a powerful message that mental well-being is valued as much as academic achievement. This shift in perspective fosters a culture where students are seen as individuals with multifaceted needs, not just as vessels for academic accomplishments.

In essence, addressing exam stress and promoting a supportive academic environment is a commitment to nurturing the complete student—mind, and intellect. It's an acknowledgment that success is not solely measured by grades but by the development of resilient, emotionally intelligent individuals who can navigate the challenges of academia and life with confidence and well-being. It's a collective responsibility, shared by educators, institutions, and society at large, to create an environment where students can flourish academically and emotionally.

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