Exam time – whose stress it it anyway and is the stress getting to the parents
It is that time of the year again when learners are sitting for their mid-year exams. This is a very stressful time. But whose stress is it anyway when it comes to exams.
Last year when my eldest daughter was in Grade 4 she wrote her first exam in June. What a stressful experience it was; I suppose more so for the parents than for her or so we think. And of course it doesn’t make it any easier when your child has this willy-nilly, “I will sit with my books in my own time” attitude. She received a study timetable from her teacher more than a month before the actual exam dates. There was enough time for her to revise and to be well prepared for the exam. However it was a constant check up on when she was going to sit and study and what she needs to study as she did not see the seriousness in the matter.
There was no other way; we had to accelerate the pressure. With many pep talks and not forgetting the threats and blackmails; the famous words “I’ve passed Grade 4 many years ago missy” (standard 2 in my years) – and “doing badly in a study subject just boils down to pure laziness”. Realising that my mother echoed these same words in my ears by my own mother many years ago. Coupled with many looks that could kill. Needless to say, we managed to get through her first year of exams with the assessment reports showing favourable results.
But whose stress is it anyway and most importantly whose exam is it? Are we as parents too pushy and do we fear failure? And if we not pushy are we not supporting them enough and setting them up for failure? And should failure occur; are we more disappointed in the result than seeing failure as a positive and allowing them to learn from it.
As parents, we only want what is best for our children. We want them to succeed in life. But are we trying to project our own expectations on them on how to achieve this success and are we setting the bar too high. I certainly want my child to do well but I also don’t want to put too much pressure on her; making her anxious every time she must write a test or an exam and being afraid to fail.
So this year we decided to take a different approach to handling this exam stress. Like the saying goes – “you can lead the horse to the water but you can’t make it drink”. We can only motivate and support her in seeing the importance of studying. However it is ultimately up to her to put in the hours.
No more being dominant and pushy. As young as she might be, she has her own vision for her future and how she wants to achieve her goals. Our child is capable of much more than what we think. We need to allow her the space to figure this out on her own but still be there to support her through this journey. It is not our stress, we are not the ones who will be answering the exam questions on that day so we need to let go. And believe me, resisting the urge to nag is very difficult but I am controlling myself.
Stress and constant nagging spills over; making your child more stressed. Resulting in them having a negative attitude towards exams and thus making studying difficult. Instead we are keeping the lines of communication open to show our support. Allowing her to approach us should she struggle with certain concepts. Now in Grade 5, there is a slight difference in her attitude towards her academic work. A notch of maturity I should say in her approach to studying for tests and exams. She follows a study timetable and although still a bit too laid-back for our liking, we learned to trust her and have her own study method.
This is how we are supporting our daughter during the exam time:
- The study time table is clearly set out which makes it easy to follow. However teaching her good time management skills was very important so that she can concentrate on all subjects.
- Ensuring that her study environment is comfortable and free from disturbance.
- During this time as difficult as it might be, we are turning a blind eye to the messy room. Although her study desk is organised there are books and notes all over the floor.
- We allowed her to follow her own study method – she is more of a visual learner so there is an array of mind maps and descriptive notes to help her learn and memorise content.
- We avoid peeping into the room and checking up on her.
- At this age it is important to allow her sufficient breaks in between – so study for 30 minutes and break for 10. The older she gets the study time will increase.
- We are discouraging her to watch television during this time; instead she can read, knit, play board games inside or play outside.
- Ensuring that she follows a balanced diet and therefore a good breakfast, lunch and supper is important.
- We have printed past exam papers that we downloaded from the internet for her to work through.
- Testing her on what she’s learnt and giving lots of praise and encouragement helps boost self confidence.
- We encourage open lines of communication and allowing her to express her fears for the exam.
- Allowing her to list her strengths and weaknesses and giving her assistance in the subjects she struggles in.
- We allow her only to sit and study until 19h30 as she needs to be in bed by 20h00 in order to get a good night’s rest. Burning the mid-night oil can be encouraged once she reaches a higher grade and is much older.
- We are discouraging her from discussing what she learnt with friends the morning of the exam as this can just lead to anxiety. She needs to enter the classroom with a clear and open mind only focusing on the questions in front of her.
- This can’t be emphasized more – read the questions properly and not to dwell on questions that she does not know as this will take up time. We rather encourage her to go back to the questions that she missed after completing the rest of the questions to avoid running out of time.
- Making sure that she has enough stationery is important.
- Rescheduling family outings over weekends.
- We constantly communicate to her that we are proud of her and her efforts and no matter what the result we know that she worked hard.
- Lastly we are remaining calm and not allowing this exam period to consume our household.
Good luck to all learners and parents during this time. And parents remember, show your child extra love and support during this time. Do not compare your child with other children rather accept their potential. Most importantly; praise efforts rather than outcomes but encourage them to be persistent in order to reach their goals.