The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to daily life. Learners from Grade 1 to matric had to transition to online learning literally overnight when the hard lockdown began in March 2020, finding themselves disconnected from routines and support systems.
A year and a half later, learners are still coping with these challenges as they prepare for their final exams.
“Under normal circumstances, learners who may have prepared well for their exams can become overwhelmed by stress,’’ says Ms Nomalungelo Ntlokwana, the acting Director of Emthonjeni Student Wellness at Nelson Mandela University. “We can expect learners to show increased levels of stress and anxiety during these times, due to the challenges associated with lockdown,” says Ntlokwana.
According to Ntlokwana, below are a few tips for learners to manage exam stress:
- Be prepared – start early and don’t cram everything in the night before
- Go with the study method that suits you best
- Work through past exam papers or example questions
- Take breaks – spend your time in between sessions doing physical activities
- Rest often – get enough sleep, especially before exams
- Know times, venues, procedures and what you can take into the exam venue
- Arrive well before the exam start time
It can be equally distressing for parents to see their children go through exam-related stress. Many parents fail to comprehend the levels of anxiety and depression facing the learners of today, and can help by providing support at home.
Here are five ways parents can support their child during exams:
1. Prioritise mental well-being
Identify triggers of stress and feelings that cause fear and anxiety with your child. Help them deal with negativity by finding ways of coping with these feelings, so that they can regain focus and confidence. Ensuring that your home is a calm, productive, and supportive space in which your child can learn can make a big difference.
2. Proactively manage stress
Be aware of the early warning signs, which can include lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and being easily distracted. Emphasise the importance of having a healthy mind and help your child to proactively relieve stress by taking regular breaks and even interacting with friends.
3. Promote a healthy lifestyle
Studying for exams requires time and effort, but it should not be to the detriment of your child’s health. Ensure they get enough quality sleep and physical exercise, even if it’s walking the dogs around the block. Cook healthy meals, keep nutritional snacks in your pantry, and reduce screen time as much as possible.
4. Set realistic expectations
As a parent, you want your child to do well, but it is important that your expectations – as well as your child’s own expectations – are realistic. Discuss what their goals are for the exams and help map out their study plan, so that they can get a sense of the desired expectations.
5. Be an example
Keep cool and stay calm – this is the best way that you can manage your child’s stress. Be sure to take care of your own mental health too, as this will enable you to show feelings of care and understanding, and support them to effectively deal with their challenges.
In these difficult times, it is vital to tackle challenges together with your child. By ensuring your behaviour and responses offer support, as opposed to creating conflict, getting through exam time can be so much easier to navigate.