Staying cool during exams

Smaranika Pattnaik

Students all over are gearing up for their year-end examinations, and it is common to hear about the stress they feel during this season. It’s normal to assume that the only people getting stressed during exam time are the students. And it’s a fair point; they are the ones who have to read, learn, revise and at the end of it all write the exam. The pressure on our young people is growing each year as testing and examinations become more rigorous and increasingly frequent.

However, something that is not usually discussed is the fact that parents and teachers feel the heat too. How can parents and teachers handle the stress effectively, so that they can equip their children and students to do likewise?

First and foremost, there are some questions that we have to answer for ourselves. Have I as a parent been setting conditions to love my children? Do I say, “Get these results or do this my way, then I will love you?” Such messages always undermine motivation. We may not say it outright, but do we send such messages subconsciously by the tone of our voice or through non-verbal signals?

Also, do we as parents look to our children for “completion”, or do we try to live out our dreams through them? Such an attitude can unknowingly put pressure both on the parent and on the children. For teachers it is double the stress as they worry about their own children and their students. Children need to know that they are loved non-judgmentally; we love our children not because they are performing well.

Role of the teachers
Have teachers allowed the rat race to put too much stress on themselves and on their students?

Teachers may unwittingly be causing exam stress in students
An academically good student and an average student have one thing in common – exam stress. And often, teachers have a significant role to play in causing it. School administrators, who are invested in getting ‘good results’ (i.e., having a large number of students perform well in exams), put pressure on the teachers to extract good performances from their students. Teachers, in turn, constantly reinforce the importance of doing well and getting ‘good marks’ in the exams. In the end, the teachers end up feeling a lot of stress themselves, majorly due to two reasons:

  • High expectations from the academically bright students the school depends on for a good result.
  • Anxiety about the exam results of under-performing students as they (the teachers) have to bear the responsibility for the students’ performances.

Recognizing stress in students
A teacher can recognize whether a student is stressed because of the long-term association between them. It is possible to differentiate an average performer from an academically sound student. This can help the teacher plan for her students accordingly. Teachers should also be aware that they might unconsciously be causing student stress themselves. When they tend to favour the academically bright students, the other students may become anxious about performing well to get their teacher’s attention.

An ideal teacher-student interaction
Teachers should be sensitive to those who are academically weak and spend additional time helping them with their foundation and creating study plans for them and offer any other support they may require. This encouraging and supportive interaction should be an ongoing one.

Communication with parents at the time of exams
This is not always necessary. However, teachers should be careful to not ‘mis-communicate’ with the parents. Statements like “Make sure they study hard” or “Don’t let them go out or watch TV during this time, this is their board exam” will only do more harm than good. Teachers may unknowingly rub off their anxieties onto the parents and this will make the students more anxious about their exams.

Guiding students during exam time
The teacher can support students by:

  • Helping them plan a timetable. You could give them a semester planner – map out tasks for the semester, a weekly time table – to structure time allowing flexibility, a diary with daily things to do.
  • Giving them tips on how they can jot down little notes, important points in their notebooks, textbooks for quick recall, make revision cards.
  • Tracking their performance and accordingly assisting them.
  • Not forcing expectations on the student but being supportive.
  • Having an open discussion about the students’ goals and achievements.

Managing stress
Expectations from their superiors and from parents can be overwhelming for the teachers, but it is necessary to regularly de-stress in order to carry on in the long haul. If a run helps clear their head, teachers must aim to do so at least once a week. If chilling out over a cup of coffee, reading a book, or taking a walk on the beach is what does the trick, then it should be scheduled into the calendar.

So, eat well, try to unwind after work – even when the days are stretched beyond the normal work hours – and try get a decent night’s sleep. Though that means time away from accomplishing more work, it can do wonders for our mental and physical health.

Helping our students do their best academically does not have to involve overbearing discipline and harsh scolding. Learning and studying can be made fun too. Parents also can, and should, create a positive atmosphere during exam time. Even class time can be enjoyable. We can surprise our students with little chocolate treats just for fun, or tell a few jokes, even if it makes them groan. When students are happy, they are more likely to be better learners.

Undoubtedly, stress will rear its ugly head at times, and the key is helping our children handle it well. It is important to remember that our job as parents and teachers is to help them deal with these stresses and emotions effectively rather than shelter them or dismiss these realities. Keep a look out for symptoms of stress such as headaches, stomach aches, depression and loss of appetite. Let your students know that you understand what they are going through and that you are there to help them through this stage if they need you.

Being prepared for all eventualities is important too, so as well as offering positive advice to their pupils, parents and teachers need to assure them that there is life after exams – for you too! – and that should things not go well, they will get the support and help they need.

As parents and teachers, we naturally want the best for our children and students. Equipping them to do well in their examinations is important, but so is helping them become happy and effective learners not just in the school, but in life.

The author is a teacher of English in DAV Public School, Pokhariput. She can be reached at smaranikadav@gmail.com.