A Principal’s Guide To Exam Season

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The final exam season of the year is almost here, and it’s not unusual for a sense of dread to creep in. It’s not just the learners who are under duress; exam time can be stressful for families and the school community. Parents and teachers want to provide the right support, but it’s not always clear what that should be.

For Mark Anderson, Principal of Koa Academy, the 2023 exam season is a milestone event. It’s the year that the high engagement online school has its first Grade 12 cohort writing Matric exams He says, “There’s typically pressure all-round when it comes to Matric. Learners and their parents feel that there’s a young person’s future at stake, while Matric results are regarded as a critical indicator of a school’s academic rigour impacting on the institution’s track record and reputation

So, everyone wants to see outstanding performances across the board.It’s important to recognise these high expectations upfront and put them into a proper perspective. There’s a certain degree of stress and pressure that is useful for driving performance, but if this becomes too much, it makes it impossible for even the most diligent of students to do their best. It’s about navigating a high-stakes time by finding balance.”

Hands off or on?  How involved should parents be?

There’s such a wide range of parent-child relationships in diverse family contexts that it is impossible to find one-size-fits-all advice. What’s true though, is that during exam season, most parents find themselves treading fine lines.

Mark says, “It can help for parents to think of their involvement during exam time in terms of the optimal role they could play. In my view, this is about supportive accountability. For instance, instead of seeing their role as a driver of their child’s performance or staying completely in the background, parents are more effective as their child’s primary supporter. This means taking a keen interest but not taking over. It helps learners when their parents hold them accountable in an appropriate way. Your child should have the space to take ownership of their own study schedule and goal setting. Checking in regularly though demonstrates your interest in their progress and their roadblocks which is supportive and motivational.”

Parents also play an important role in facilitating an optimal study environment over exam season. It’s not just about the studying. To perform at their peak, your child needs to study in comfort, sleep sufficiently, eat healthily, exercise daily, interact socially and take breaks so that they can recharge. Parents can help by keeping their focus on their child’s well-being and encouraging healthy habits.

In some families, parents can also play an important role in reducing distractions and household obligations, while monitoring procrastination which can lead to stressful, fruitless cramming before an exam.  Mark says, “Parents will want to be the champions of consistency and balance during exam season.  If your child is sitting up studying desperately until two in the morning, that’s a red flag, not a sign of dedication and determination.  We perform at our peak when we are well-prepared and confident, and you can’t give your best when you are exhausted and anxious.”

Who’s the teacher?

Teachers play a critical role over exam season in preparing learners and keeping perspective. Typically, teachers cover study skills, exam techniques and providing opportunities for test practice. Mark says, “It’s important for parents of learners in online schools to realise that they don’t suddenly need to become their child’s teacher.

Advice for learners – keeping things in perspective

Mark says, “Keep perspective, exams are not a sudden disruption to your school year, they are just part of the learning cycle. Everything you do throughout a school year works towards your performance in an exam. Working consistently on your classwork, courses and projects throughout the year is all learning and preparation that leads you to writing the exams. That’s why consistency wins the day. So, it is important not to see exam season as a surprise or once-off, or even disassociated event. Exams are embedded in your learning, and therefore your long-term effort pays off best at exam time.”

What’s also important for learners who are feeling like their whole future is at stake during exam time, is to realise that things are not that simplistic. Life is long, people’s futures take many interesting turns, and the world is full of solutions. Many parents have experienced this reality first hand and bringing that perspective during exam time can lift our eyes and relieve unnecessary expectations or pressure, while still striving for your best. If you feel overwhelmed during the upcoming exam season, it’s important to reach out to a supportive parent, teacher or friend. Remember, you are more important than any mark.

Discover Koa Academy, visit www.koacademy.com