Mains Exam, Self Esteem and Mental Health - ForumIAS

Mains Exam, Self Esteem and Mental Health

I want to share my experience with writing and failing mains 4 times, hoping that it would resonate with some people out there and we can have a conversation about it. 

After 2020 results, I sat down to figure out what was it that I was doing wrong. I could figure out several issues related to note making, studying habits and answer writing. But more that everything, I think it is my self esteem issues that has created extra hurdles for me. I came to the conclusion that until I work on my self esteem, my effort in other areas is not likely to yield proportionate results. Let me elaborate. 

Mains exam has certain distinctive features which can generate anxiety and fear. In prelims, you are presented with 4 options. The answer is there in front of you. You just have to identify it and just put a tick mark on it. There is nothing that you are creating in the process. There is very less of "you" in the answer. Even the OMR sheet is checked by computers. There is no one who is going to look at your answers and say "you did not know even this!". Mains is the complete opposite. You have a few blank pages in front of you and whatever you write is just "you". In a way, writing a mains answer is exposing yourself, being vulnerable in front of the stranger who is going to read your answer and judge you for it. It can make you feel little, inadequate. As a result, it can generate a lot of anxiety in someone with self esteem issues like me. There have also been several scientific studies which have linked self esteem, exam anxiety and performance. 

Even in toppers, we can see two types of people. One is the Anudeep Durishetty kind. You can see vulnerability in his speech, in his writing. In his blog also he has mentioned how he struggled with self esteem after failing repeatedly in mains. Then there is other kind of people who are (relatively) self assured. For them, preparation is a relatively straightforward affair.

Therefore I think that the way that one approaches preparation will have to depend on one's self esteem level. I think for people struggling with self esteem issues (myself included), preparation will have to involve more than just reading books, making notes and writing tests. These are important, I don't deny that. Doing these sincerely is also likely to help one's self esteem. But at the same time, we also have to focus on our mental health. Those who struggle with self esteem, have a little voice inside themselves, which criticizes everything they do, second guesses their every step. It keeps saying to them that they are not good enough. This raises exam anxiety and lowers performance, leading to a self fulfilling prophecy. To do one's best in such as situation, this voice has to be controlled and if possible eliminated. At least that is what I think. I would love to hear other's opinion on this.
Neyawn,sonderand19 otherslike this
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@Neyawn would love to hear your opinion on this.

3k views

Though I have never given mains butI totally understand you. 

But with me the problem is in prelims too. In 2020 pre (in exam hall) , I said to myself  "Idiot, you did not even study this? You did not even know this question? huh? Look at others, how difficult it must have been for them to study- some affected by covid, some in jobs and some managing household work, etc"

Later, I realized I made silly mistake like-Solving question 41 but marking Q40 OMR instead of 41, the more nervous I got , the more silly mistakes I did( by the way, I did make these mistakes in mocks before and minimised it but in pre again did) and more I forgot what I studied. And while marking 50:50 question--my brains works like "if I mark option b "what is 'a' option is correct and not 'b'" and vice versa"

I know I lacked preparation in 1st attempt but in second attempt, I was more disappointed (with myself).

I too think anxiety and exam fear overpowers my brain.

But doing hobbies tends to reduce a little anxiety.

sbhati,AJ_and3 otherslike this
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Bravesaid

Though I have never given mains butI totally understand you. 

But with me the problem is in prelims too. In 2020 pre (in exam hall) , I said to myself  "Idiot, you did not even study this? You did not even know this question? huh? Look at others, how difficult it must have been for them to study- some affected by covid, some in jobs and some managing household work, etc"

Later, I realized I made silly mistake like-Solving question 41 but marking Q40 OMR instead of 41, the more nervous I got , the more silly mistakes I did( by the way, I did make these mistakes in mocks before and minimised it but in pre again did) and more I forgot what I studied. And while marking 50:50 question--my brains works like "if I mark option b "what is 'a' option is correct and not 'b'" and vice versa"

I know I lacked preparation in 1st attempt but in second attempt, I was more disappointed (with myself).

I too think anxiety and exam fear overpowers my brain.

But doing hobbies tends to reduce a little anxiety.

It felt like you were writing my story. 2nd attempt and I did the same mistakes, thinking "You forgot Ulgulan also? Duh! You don't deserve to qualify", Result was I failed even after scoring around 100 in prelims. It was not about knowledge which I lacked, nor those 1or 2 easy questions but about the confidence, the temperament which must have been there while giving the exam. This time, I am focussing more on revision than those umpteen mocks and had expanded the sources for almost every subject, but sometimes I really ask this question - Is it about less knowledge base or confidence? Why I lack confidence? Without all these answers, I am just sailing on a boat carrying a hope that I would be confident enough this time, maybe this prelims will restore my self-esteem again for now. 

sbhati,Braveand1 otherslike this
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@balwintejas Glad someone else feel like this too.

But, why should our self-esteem depend on exam though. I feel like self esteem should be like- if I am performing well, my self esteem should say "good, you performed well but don't get it to your head and work hard" and if performing bad then inner voice should say "ok , analyze your mistakes, keep it in mind and move on, you can do it , don't stress out too much".

But what actually happens is that the inner voice in my head criticizes every action " you performed well , huh, mock must be too easy" and if perform bad, then- "idiot, you are hopeless".

Somebody suggested me to do hobbies. Mine is drawing, painting, so when I draw a little, that self criticizing voice diminishes and I feel better and less anxious. In last few days , I could not do hobby, so that voice got a lot bigger. Now, again trying to control that.

@balwintejas I feel it is about balance-knowledge and confidence. Nothing more and nothing less of both.
All the best to you.

@Neyawn - I don't know why, I think you can almost read people's mind. If possible, please tell what do you think of what we wrote in above comments.
2.3k views

Bravesaid

Though I have never given mains butI totally understand you. 

But with me the problem is in prelims too. In 2020 pre (in exam hall) , I said to myself  "Idiot, you did not even study this? You did not even know this question? huh? Look at others, how difficult it must have been for them to study- some affected by covid, some in jobs and some managing household work, etc"

Later, I realized I made silly mistake like-Solving question 41 but marking Q40 OMR instead of 41, the more nervous I got , the more silly mistakes I did( by the way, I did make these mistakes in mocks before and minimised it but in pre again did) and more I forgot what I studied. And while marking 50:50 question--my brains works like "if I mark option b "what is 'a' option is correct and not 'b'" and vice versa"

I know I lacked preparation in 1st attempt but in second attempt, I was more disappointed (with myself).

I too think anxiety and exam fear overpowers my brain.

But doing hobbies tends to reduce a little anxiety.

That is very relatable. In 2019 mains, in a question about social reformers, I forgot Raja Ram Mohan Roy's name. In question on Iran nuclear deal, i forgot full form of JCPOA. These things are not related to preparation alone. This is what exam anxiety does. And I think this anxiety stems from low self esteem. Level of preparation also plays a role, definitely. But anxiety makes you perform less than your potential. Then bad results reinforce negative self image and the cycle continues.  

Brave,
2.7k views
@balwintejas I think that even being conscious of it should help. If you know that you have these unhelpful patterns of thinking, you can recognise them and say to yourself "I am just unnecessarily criticising myself as I always do. I have prepared well and it is going to be okay." That can help in reducing anxiety. That is why I think it is something that needs to be recognised, addressed rather being brushed under the carpet. 


balwintejas,Brave
2.7k views

Bravesaid

@balwintejas Glad someone else feel like this too.

But, why should our self-esteem depend on exam though. I feel like self esteem should be like- if I am performing well, my self esteem should say "good, you performed well but don't get it to your head and work hard" and if performing bad then inner voice should say "ok , analyze your mistakes, keep it in mind and move on, you can do it , don't stress out too much".

But what actually happens is that the inner voice in my head criticizes every action " you performed well , huh, mock must be too easy" and if perform bad, then- "idiot, you are hopeless".

Somebody suggested me to do hobbies. Mine is drawing, painting, so when I draw a little, that self criticizing voice diminishes and I feel better and less anxious. In last few days , I could not do hobby, so that voice got a lot bigger. Now, again trying to control that.

@balwintejas I feel it is about balance-knowledge and confidence. Nothing more and nothing less of both.
All the best to you.

@Neyawn - I don't know why, I think you can almost read people's mind. If possible, please tell what do you think of what we wrote in above comments.

That is how it should be. Self esteem should not depend on exam. Self esteem should not depend on hobbies also. We should be okay with ourself, not doing anything, just existing. But that is exactly what low self esteem is. Feeling inadequate, not inadequate with something in particular, inadequate even just existing. 

Chaotic_homo,Brave
2.7k views

Bravesaid

@balwintejas Glad someone else feel like this too.

But, why should our self-esteem depend on exam though. I feel like self esteem should be like- if I am performing well, my self esteem should say "good, you performed well but don't get it to your head and work hard" and if performing bad then inner voice should say "ok , analyze your mistakes, keep it in mind and move on, you can do it , don't stress out too much".

But what actually happens is that the inner voice in my head criticizes every action " you performed well , huh, mock must be too easy" and if perform bad, then- "idiot, you are hopeless".

Somebody suggested me to do hobbies. Mine is drawing, painting, so when I draw a little, that self criticizing voice diminishes and I feel better and less anxious. In last few days , I could not do hobby, so that voice got a lot bigger. Now, again trying to control that.

@balwintejas I feel it is about balance-knowledge and confidence. Nothing more and nothing less of both.
All the best to you.

@Neyawn - I don't know why, I think you can almost read people's mind. If possible, please tell what do you think of what we wrote in above comments.

We had developed this aura for ourselves thinking "This is it! Life is done now!". Constant questions being asked, people staring, empty pocket, relationship getting broken, rejection from the interview, etc are happening around which make us think "Now what after this?"

And I felt why it hurts the most. For banking or other cgl, you prepare for few months diligently and you are done. If you qualify, it feels like an achievement; if not; if feels like a misery but then you understand that you had studied less. But in UPSC, things are different. No matter the hours you had spent or how smartly you have made notes or have great great personality, things are uncertain. Luck has a major role and will play a major role compared to other exams. Like state PSCs, UPSC doesn't provide mains copies by RTI, making things more cumbersome to understand what exactly works and whatnot. 

But we had chosen this field ourselves and life is not done after 2 attempts only. We will sure come stronger this time and achieve what's due for us. 

"Tu Nahi to koi aur sahi, koi aur nahi to koi aur sahi"

TsarBomba,SergioRamosand3 otherslike this
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Bravesaid

@balwintejas Glad someone else feel like this too.

But, why should our self-esteem depend on exam though. I feel like self esteem should be like- if I am performing well, my self esteem should say "good, you performed well but don't get it to your head and work hard" and if performing bad then inner voice should say "ok , analyze your mistakes, keep it in mind and move on, you can do it , don't stress out too much".

But what actually happens is that the inner voice in my head criticizes every action " you performed well , huh, mock must be too easy" and if perform bad, then- "idiot, you are hopeless".

Somebody suggested me to do hobbies. Mine is drawing, painting, so when I draw a little, that self criticizing voice diminishes and I feel better and less anxious. In last few days , I could not do hobby, so that voice got a lot bigger. Now, again trying to control that.

@balwintejas I feel it is about balance-knowledge and confidence. Nothing more and nothing less of both.
All the best to you.

@Neyawn - I don't know why, I think you can almost read people's mind. If possible, please tell what do you think of what we wrote in above comments.

We had developed this aura for ourselves thinking "This is it! Life is done now!". Constant questions being asked, people staring, empty pocket, relationship getting broken, rejection from the interview, etc are happening around which make us think "Now what after this?"

And I felt why it hurts the most. For banking or other cgl, you prepare for few months diligently and you are done. If you qualify, it feels like an achievement; if not; if feels like a misery but then you understand that you had studied less. But in UPSC, things are different. No matter the hours you had spent or how smartly you have made notes or have great great personality, things are uncertain. Luck has a major role and will play a major role compared to other exams. Like state PSCs, UPSC doesn't provide mains copies by RTI, making things more cumbersome to understand what exactly works and whatnot. 

But we had chosen this field ourselves and life is not done after 2 attempts only. We will sure come stronger this time and achieve what's due for us. 

"Tu Nahi to koi aur sahi, koi aur nahi to koi aur sahi"

Rightly said brother. I cleared  banking and CGL exam. A good aptitude minimizes the effort needed in these exams. And there it is easier to draw inference between your result and preparation. But UPSC and PSC exams, this is not the case. The worst thing is  that we cant even know our marks despite now being out of the 2020 race. We could have analysed  what went wrong. But here we are.. as clueless as we can be.

PS : Forgot to mention a problem with CGL. One exam cycle takes 3 years to complete. time eater!

2k views

Thanks@sbhati513590 for bringing this up. I am particularly undergoing this since the 2019 mains results came out in October, 2020. I had observed the gradual decline of my self-confidence few weeks after I saw marks. Before that, I was gearing up for mains, 2020. I started to get a feeling from inside "what better can you do in mains 2020 within this short time?". Then I thought it to be a momentary low phase which will pass. I even called up  coaching mentors to help me. But somehow I could do anything to save my boat. I could feel my esteem taking hit. In fact, 30-40 days before mains, I was scared to touch the books. I was scared to stay inside my room. I was scared to touch my optional, which I loved deeply. And I  was judging myself vigorously. This episode hit my esteem so much so that I couldn't ask for help from parents/friends. Giving Mains 2020 felt like inert phase to me. No feelings, no confidence, no positivity.  I was writing the exam only to fail. I couldn't yet figure out how to remedy this.

sbhati,TristanHarrisand2 otherslike this
2.1k views

Thanks@sbhati513590 for bringing this up. I am particularly undergoing this since the 2019 mains results came out in October, 2020. I had observed the gradual decline of my self-confidence few weeks after I saw marks. Before that, I was gearing up for mains, 2020. I started to get a feeling from inside "what better can you do in mains 2020 within this short time?". Then I thought it to be a momentary low phase which will pass. I even called up  coaching mentors to help me. But somehow I could do anything to save my boat. I could feel my esteem taking hit. In fact, 30-40 days before mains, I was scared to touch the books. I was scared to stay inside my room. I was scared to touch my optional, which I loved deeply. And I  was judging myself vigorously. This episode hit my esteem so much so that I couldn't ask for help from parents/friends. Giving Mains 2020 felt like inert phase to me. No feelings, no confidence, no positivity.  I was writing the exam only to fail. I couldn't yet figure out how to remedy this.

@nayan594 You are welcome. I think many of us give up weeks before mains. We don't even give ourselves a fair chance. We keep going through the motions of reading, revising, writing answers but deep down we say to ourselves "what is the point? I am not going to clear it." This mindset then reflects in our performance. This is why I am trying to be conscious of the unhelpful patterns of thought that keep going through my mind. 


I am also reading this book. I am finding it quite good. Others may also check it out. I think it can be helpful in resolving some of the issues we are discussing here.

SergioRamos,nayan594and1 otherslike this
2.2k views
Thanks for suggesting the book. I read the sample pages and can mostly relate to what it talks about low self-esteem. Especially, about self destructiveness we "know" we are inadequate/can't do anything and that "happiness anxiety". Sometimes, understanding the feelings we go through gives more clarity on how we behave. Please share anything else too if you found it to be helpful. 


1.7k views

Bravesaid

Thanks for suggesting the book. I read the sample pages and can mostly relate to what it talks about low self-esteem. Especially, about self destructiveness we "know" we are inadequate/can't do anything and that "happiness anxiety". Sometimes, understanding the feelings we go through gives more clarity on how we behave. Please share anything else too if you found it to be helpful. 


I have found it to be the most helpful thing. Recognising that others have also the felt the way that I feel and there are words/concepts already existing which describe these feelings (concept of self esteem for example). It also enables you to talk about these things with others. 


Do let me know if you pick up the book. We can probably discuss things while we go through it. 

Brave,
2k views
We keep reading about emotional intelligence in ethics. And that recognising your emotions is one part of it. I think it is only now that I have started to understand what it really means. 
Brave,
2k views
@sbhati513590 Exactly, you are right, knowing our feelings, emotions, thoughts and realizing we are not the only one to go through it helps to bring a lot of clarity in mind.  (That's why I listen to K-pop songs a lot, they have a song for almost every emotion).

Will surely let you know if I pick up the book(may be in the next few days). It seemed very interesting and I could not stop reading it. Thanks.
1.5k views
@Brave For me it is Radiohead. That should not come as a surprise if you have listened to “Creep”. 😅


Brave,
1.9k views
I am not a successful person till now in this field but have given enough time to this preparation. I will suggest you 2-3 things to be done for self esteem, confidence or for that matter mental well being:-
1) please join a gym/ yoga/ some form ofphysical activityclasses or do at least 15 minutes of running on a daily basis or 20...25 minutes of exercise in home itself
2) practise awareness of the present moment or in some waymeditationwhere u can focus upon ur breathing- minm 15-20 minutes daily
3) be reckless in affirming urself in some form ofaffirmationseither in form of writing or reading out aloud ur goals for 100-200 times daily.

Hope these can make some changes to ur issues. Practise it for 2-4 weeks nd if there is no visible changes... leave it and try something else.



Practising more whether in terms of hours or writing tests will give you more confidence. If u r able to win here in tests series or u somehw abl to figure out that u r better than ur peers that may embolden u mentally


Please keep in mind that physical activity in these daily at a particular time in ur day for at least 5 days a week is the most important

SergioRamos,
1.6k views
@SiddhurulesThanks for your suggestions. But my intention behind starting this thread was to know people's opinion about what role self esteem plays in preparation, based on their personal experiences. I was not looking for advice per say as to what I should do.


1.6k views
Okz sorry... ignore the suggestions then
....i misunderstood ur context.... noone will say that without self esteem one can do nything in lyf. I think its role is really imp in confidence building, handling stress or in interview in the way in which one presents oneself... Often ppl who prepare for these kind of services comes with some sort of inherent self worth,dignity nd respect attached to themselves as well as to others....


1.4k views
@Siddhurules Probably. But I think you’ll also find many who do question their self worth, at least sometimes. Many of us are either unconscious of it and attribute their problems to their lack of preparation/ poor luck or are conscious of it but don’t want to talk about it. 
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