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Interview: Managing your students’ exam stress

Teachers may unwittingly be causing exam stress in students

An academically good student and an average student have one thing in common­­ they may both face exam stress. And often, teachers have a significant role to play in causing it. School administrators, who are invested in having ‘good results’ (i.e., having a large number of students perform well in exams) put pressure on 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( Read study here). In the end, the teachers end up facing a lot of stress themselves, majorly due to two reasons:

  • High expectations from the academically bright students, through whom the school does well
  • about the exam results of under­performing students as they (the teachers) have to bear responsibility for the students’ performance

This article, which has been curated with inputs from Dr M Manjula, additional professor in clinical psychology at NIMHANS, explains how teachers may unwittingly cause exam stress in students.Dr Manjula says that while it is impossible for the teacher to monitor all the students and chart their academic graphs, it is possible to help them deal with their stress over academics. Here are some of the common queries a teacher may face while dealing with students' exam stress. 

How do I recognize if a student is stressed?

Through a long term association, it is possible to differentiate between an average performer and an academically sound student. This helps the teachers give special attention to each student, irrespective of their academic strengths. Often, teachers tend to favour students who are perform considerably well in academics, over those who score average grades. This can make other students anxious to perform exceptionally well to get their teacher's attention.

How should an ideal teacher ­student interaction be?

  • Teachers should not be partial to students based on academics and should instead focus on ensuring that every student is learning well. 
  • The academically weak are often ignored by the teachers, which affects the child's self­esteem. Teachers should be sensitive to kids who are academically weak and spend additional time helping them with their foundation and with creating study plans. and offer any other support they may require.This encouraging and supportive interaction should be an ongoing one, with each and every student over time.  

Is communication with parents necessary at the time of exams?

It is not always necessary. However, teachers should be careful to not 'miscommunicate' with the parents. Words like “Make sure they study hard” or “Don't let them go out or watch TV during this time, this is their board exam” and similar remarks will only do more harm than good. The teachers may unknowingly rub off their anxieties on the parents, and this will make the student more anxious about their exams. 

How can I guide students during exam time?

When a teacher differentiates between a high­performing student and an average student, the latter’s self­esteem often suffers. What the teacher says about the student or thinks of the student's abilities affects his/her self­confidence. 

The teacher can support the student by:

  • Helping plan the student's timetable
  • Tracking the student's performance and accordingly assist them
  • Not forcing their expectations on the student but be supportive  
  • Having an open discussion about the student's goals and achievements