Many parents are coping with children who are overwhelmed with worry as pupils throughout the nation get ready for and complete their last grade tests of the year.
Test anxiety is a serious problem, and the conventional South African evaluation method of giving pupils a lot of exams can have long-lasting detrimental effects on some children throughout their school years.
Parents should be on the lookout for indications that their child is experiencing test anxiety and take appropriate action to help their child overcome the issue, according to Naledi Mokoena, an educational psychologist in private practice and instructor at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP).
According to her, when a youngster is anticipating an evaluation, they exhibit a major physiological stress response known as test anxiety. Internally, one experiences this reaction. It is crucial to first distinguish between stress and anxiety.
When a youngster is engaged in academic pursuits that are more demanding than other required school activities, stress is a natural human reaction. However, anxiety is an exaggerated reaction to a stressful experience that can affect focus, memory and recall.
As a result, a youngster who is anxious about tests is likely to perform poorly on an assessment, which means it is not an accurate reflection of their actual level of knowledge and understanding.
Many teachers and school administrators are concerned about the evaluations’ possible lack of usefulness. Mark Anderson, co-founder and principal of Koa Academy, states that tests should be used as learning tools. They evaluate pupils’ knowledge and comprehension to give them the tools they need to reflect on their education and pinpoint areas that require more attention if they are to continuously improve their knowledge and understanding.
The test is not only a pointless event, it is also dangerous to children if it fails to appropriately assess their true knowledge and understanding because they are overcome with worry and unable to demonstrate what they were capable of.
A child’s self-confidence is damaged by poor test results, which make them feel as though they can't “do” a particular subject or section of content. At Koa they approach evaluations differently so that they are instruments that pupils can use with confidence to reflect on and develop their learning.
Achieving a healthy balance between anxiety and stress
Both Mokoena and Anderson concur that the goal is not to completely remove stress from a child’s life. Mokoena claims that test-related anxiety is typical, signals a big change in the child’s academic life, and should motivate and drive them to focus on overcoming the impending challenges.
“I usually tell our Koa parents that I don’t mind if their kids are under a good amount of strain,” Anderson says. “They can handle this stress, which aids in their growth and development. Taking on a task is inspirational and stimulating. It fosters grit, perseverance and self-mastery. A child’s learning is hindered, their well-being is badly impacted, and they are more likely to perform below par when this healthy pressure turns into prolonged anxiety.”
Mokoena counsels parents to watch out for indications that their child is struggling with the demands of the year-end exams. Parents need to be aware of the physical and behavioural signs of test anxiety, according to the author, because frequently children are unable to express their concern through words.
Signs include changes in eating and sleeping habits, a loss of interest in enjoyable activities; restlessness, fidgeting or difficulty remaining still, in particular during study time; distraction and avoidance of study time; changes in mood and demeanour, such as a child who develops a shorter temper or less tolerance in dealing with people during exam time; and physical changes, such as increased levels of perspiration and different sleep patterns.
Parents can utilise a variety of techniques to support their child in managing test anxiety:
Recognise your child’s emotions. Do not accuse them of feeling overburdened. Nothing is “wrong” with your child. Children and adults frequently feel test anxiety, which is a type of performance anxiety. Be understanding and empathetic so that your child knows they have your unwavering support.
To assist your child develop this relaxation method into a habitual reaction to feeling overwhelmed, teach them deep breathing and encourage them to practise it frequently.
By giving them control over a schedule and a regular timetable, you may assist your child in organising their study time. Taking charge and completing each study job one at a time helps boost a pupil’s self-assurance. Make sure your child’s study schedule includes pauses that consider their focus and concentration endurance.
Make sure they have daily physical activity time allotted to them so that endorphins can be released to ease tension.
Make sure your child sleeps enough and consumes healthy foods. If required, seek guidance or assistance from a qualified individual, such as an educational psychologist.
While these strategies can assist families in the short term in coping with a child who struggles with test anxiety, they fail to address the basis of the problem, which is the abundance of testing in South African schools.
When choosing a school, Anderson advises parents to take evaluation strategy into account. Parents should enquire about a school’s assessment strategy, he says, and feel confident that their child’s school provides useful tests.