How can we as teachers support our students during difficult exam periods? Our Buddy Liam Pressley gives us tips on how to help stressed Breadies during the exam season, taken from our monthly newsletter.

This month’s Trend in Education was inspired by a personal experience with one of my Breadies. Before starting our lesson the student had received a poor mark on a recent test. I could immediately tell that the result had really shaken this individual, as they were not acting in their usual chirpy and talkative manner. Instead, I was met with a very deflated Bready, who struggled to focus throughout the session.

As this student’s teacher, I felt completely blindsided. What could I say or do to both make this person feel better and keep them motivated in their lessons? I wanted to tell the student that it would be OK, and that we would work together to overcome this. No matter how encouraging I tried to be, however, I could tell that what I was saying was falling on deaf ears. This got me thinking, are there methods that we Buddies can employ to help our students overcome exam anxieties and feelings of defeat from poor marks?

Before we begin delving into the research, it is important to understand how and why so many of our students fear failure.

Such sentiments are subjective and are felt by individuals in different ways. A student that is accustomed to receiving “A” marks may be devastated if he or she receives a “B” on a particular test. On the flip side, a student who struggles to achieve marks higher than a “C,” may feel victorious after achieving a “B “on a paper or exam.

The fear of failure depends on an individual’s goals and aspirations and these must be considered when assessing how to comfort a student about exam pressures and disappointments. Often, it is not the fear of failure that students actually worry about, but the negative consequences that can follow from this. These sentiments can be broken down into three key categories: personal, interpersonal and career-related anxieties.

Personal Fear

This is an internalised fear and often comes from knowing that you could have done better than what you achieved on a test. This sentiment is associated with frustration, anger, guilt and pain. You might hear a student say “I am frustrated because I know I should have gotten a higher mark than I did!

Interpersonal Fear

Interpersonal fears are brought on by the pressure we feel from those closest to us. A bad mark on an exam or paper might already make a student feel ashamed, but they may be even more embarrassed and upset about having to reveal this to parents, relatives and friends. Many students can feel as if they have let their parents or teachers down with a bad mark. They may even anticipate that this will lead to ridicule from classmates, or others taking them less seriously overall. Career FearCareer fears stem from a perceived decrease in one’s ability to secure a better future. As a society, we associate good marks and notable academic achievements with a better chance of finding a worthy career path in later life. The pressure can be unbearable for many students, especially in China, where career prospects are generally heavily dependent on one’s academic results. A poor mark will often leave a student feeling that many careers doors have suddenly closed, and that their aspirations for future success are greatly diminished. 

It is imperative that as teachers we to find an effective method to overcome our students’ perceptions of academic failure.

By putting the correct methods in place, we can both comfort and encourage students to believe that it really is not the end of the world and that they can work to achieve higher marks in the future. A handful of the methods that academic circles have established are listed below: 

No. 1). Learning to recognise improvement – this cannot be stressed enough!

It is not always about the achievement itself. As teachers, we should always recognise any and all improvements in a student’s performance, no matter how small. Let’s look at the example from above – the student accustomed to receiving “C” marks may be really hoping to achieve an “A,” but instead, accomplishes a “B.” Although this was not the grade that he or she was aiming for, it is important to openly notice and reward their improvements. By providing this positive affirmation, we remind students that they are on the right track in progressing in their studies. 

No. 2) Coping beliefs

Perhaps the hardest challenge after receiving a bad mark is one’s ability to remain motivated and not give into feelings of defeat! Students must understand the mind-set that they should adopt to achieve better marks in the future. Positive thinking cannot be stressed enough. We can also help our students by reminding them of their own past successes, and what they did to achieve these. Research finds that if an individual truly believes that they are in control and that their efforts alone will affect a positive outcome, then their future results are more likely to go their way.

As teachers we can help students with this by encouraging them to view seemingly impossible academic challenges as plausible tasks that they can and will excel in. Another helpful tool is to remind our Breadies of the potential rewards gained through successes, rather than have them focus on the losses.

No. 3). Preparation, preparation, preparation…

It seems obvious, but being prepared is essential for success.

A student can better prepare for future tests by planning ahead and studying in stimulating environments. As teachers we should prompt our students to begin revising early for their exams, and to never shy away from asking us questions if they do not fully understand a topic.No question should be considered wrong or too embarrassing to ask!

Such recommendations are some of the most effective ways to help our students overcome academic anxieties and disappointments. 

Above all, we Buddies need to help our students understand that struggling on an exam does not equate to failure in life.

The next time a student is feeling deflated after a test result remember that encouragement, effective planning and changes in one’s mind-set about exams are some of the most powerful tools for steering students towards better results!