Exam Phobia – A New Perspective

Why do children fear examinations?

As we forge into a new academic year with new hope,the stress of the bygone exams fades away – only to loom again come result time.

As children become creative with their excuses, parents find new ways to convince them and the battle continues.

This year, we decided to call a truce and consider what exactly is makes a child fear examinations, and why the phenomenon called exam phobia occurs. We also have some suggestions on how you can deal with it.

What is Exam Phobia?

Exam fever, exam phobia, or exam anxiety disorder, call it what you will, it affects more than half the student population – some more than others – and many even actually fall physically ill as a direct result of this fear. Yet …

There exists no real definition for the term exam phobia, nor has medical science identified specific cause or cure for it.

The Cause

A number of psychological conditions have been attributed to exam fever from outright laziness and extreme distraction to learning disabilities, fear of teachers, parents, and examiners. When a child fears examination though, parents make every effort to get the child to overcome it. They explain, cajole, plead, and scold the child, attempting to get him to co-operate.

Though most children fear examinations, few are really serious or severe and these can and should be treated with care.

Do we really need exams?

Examinations are a way to assess the knowledge gained by the student and his readiness to move on to the next level.

Failing an exam simply means that you are not yet ready for the next level.

Exams are necessary simply because there is no better way to assess how much a pupil has imbibed in class. Even in the days gone by, when children learnt at the feet of a Guru, the Guru tested their abilities in different ways.

Remember though, Exams are simply a means to an end.

Why the Hue and Cry?

As we said, at the simplest level, passing an exam means you are ready for the next level of coaching. Everything else stems from high expectations, ego, prestige, social standing, and other causes. When a child fails, his peers ridicule him and his parents feel ashamed. This does not mean they love him any less.

It is simply the fear of ridicule and social shame that is at the root of exam phobia.

Remember every child will eventually learn what is required.

It would not therefore be far wrong to say that prestige and false pride is the root cause of exam fever.

Other Causes and Complications

Until a few years back, when a child failed an examination, he was required to repeat a class while his friends moved on . This meant he would have to make new friends in his “new” class while his friends moved on to other newer things. In his personal social circle, family and friends inquire about his academic progress and express their disapproval – if not overtly then through their body language. His friends from his previous class are still in the same school and may ridicule – or even bully – him.

Social cues – both overt and subtle – constantly remind the child of his inadequacy – feeding his fear and leading to other complications.

What can you do about it?

Begin with the belief that even if your child is academically weak, he does have his strong forte – you just need to look for it. Non-academic talents are often buried under the sludge of expectations to perform and excel. As a result the already intimated child is unable to express his desire or follow his passion – which only adds fuel to the already blazing fire.

Add to this melting pot, the ridicule by friends at school and on the block, relatives, and others, and you have a recipe for a first class disorder.

Though the rules are changing, the thought process has yet to change.

Firm Steps

There is no one size fits all solution to this malady called exam phobia. However, there are some definite steps that parents and teachers can take.

  • Focus on regularity rather than performance.

  • Stay organized throughout the academic year so that you are not running around at the last-minute.

  • Stay up to date on all academic requirements – again to avoid last-minute panic.

  • Take copious notes so that all you have to do is look at pointers during the last few days.

  • Indulge in other activities too – apart from academics.

  • Plan for at least one extracurricular activity during the days approaching the exam to take your mind off the stress.

  • Remember – it is just a test. Don’t fret.

As parents and teachers,it befalls us to ensure that the child emerges knowledgeable and confident – ready to face any challenge not just the upcoming exams.

So, let’s just do our duty.*

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