Educational psychologist Rhea Dalrymple says “it is normal for both students and parents to feel anxious and psychologically exhausted” as the annual Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination, or the 11-Plus Exam as it is commonly called, approaches.
Some 3 295 students – 1 665 males and 1 630 females – are registered to write this year’s Common Entrance Exam, scheduled for Tuesday. They will do so at the 21 public secondary schools. Among them are 20 early sitters aged 10 years old, and according to the Ministry of Education, Technical and Vocational Training, “180 special requests, ranging from scribes to large print” were received.
Dalrymple, who operates Rainbow Psychology & Educational Centre where she works with children with learning difficulties inclusive of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, shared some tips for students, with or without needs and their parents, with The Nation Online.
Reminding parents that “every child is different, and you may need to adjust based on your child and your situation”, Dalrymple urges having “healthy exam conversations” in which they should talk to their children “about their exam worries and acknowledge them”.
“Saying to them, ‘Oh you have nothing to be worried about’, is not enough, especially because we place so much on this exam. Students should feel comfortable sharing their worries with you rather than keeping them inside.
“[There should be a positive mindset and reinforcement. Affirmations and positive statements can help reduce negative thoughts. Encouraging your child to repeat statements like ‘You’ve got this’ or ‘You can do this’ goes a long way.
“As a parent, filling their mindset too with encouraging statements is important. Provide encouragement which means to avoid making negative comments regarding performance throughout the term. Remind your child that no matter what the results may be, he or she is wonderful and loved and just do your best,” stated the psychologist.
About offering “rewards”, she said: “Do not bribe or suggest a reward only if the child gains entry to a certain school. This is additional pressure and creates anxiety-related behaviours if scores are not up to parent standards. You need to be encouraging at all times!
“Enforce healthy eating and adequate rest [which] should already be happening. Healthy eating as well as a good night’s rest have been proven to aid with retention and information recall. Make sure your child is in bed early the night before the exam and have a good breakfast the morning of the exam. It is important to be early, and mindful of traffic and possible unplanned situations. The key is to reduce anxiety on the day,” she said.
About experiencing anxiety which “may be viewed as a wave, meaning, it eventually lessens’, the psychologist says that “picturing a happy place or experience may help reinstate calm feelings when a child feels anxious”. She said further that “many children experience anxiety, especially exam anxiety and “it is important to instil a feeling of calm, especially during an anxious moment such as the BSSEE”.
“Help your child label their feelings, that is, he or she may need help recognising that they are anxious, e.g., your heart is racing, you are sweating more than usual, your fingers are shaking. After labelling feelings, your child will need to know how to return to a calm state. Engage in slow, deep, breathing exercises and reassure your child that he or she has been working towards this day for a long time and they are prepared.
Here are Rhea’s other tips.
At this point, preparation for the exam should be chunked, that is short periods of revision rather than long hours. Allow students to revise based on their learning style, whether through visual strategies such as flashcards, watching a short video or a movement activity while reviewing concepts.
Some students may need to be socially prepared for examination day. Many students have been preparing for this day months in advance by doing weekly tests and even visiting examination centres. Talk to your child and prepare them for what may come in terms of how the day may go, e.g., there’s a break, a lunchtime, which paper is completed first, etc. It will be less intimidating.
Avoid revising or quizzing students the morning of the exam. Cramming creates stress and the aim is to reduce these feelings on the examination day.
When you receive the paper, scan each page so that you have a good idea of how to pace yourself. Write down important formulas or thoughts first so you do not have to worry about forgetting them later. Read each question carefully.
Depending on the child, students may complete the simple questions first, followed by the harder questions or, the higher-order thinking questions first, followed by multiple choice questions. You can do the skills you’re better at first.
If you notice that you are struggling with a question or do not know the answer, skip it, and come back to it later if you have time.
If you leave out a question, put a star or a mark with your pencil so when you check over, you’ll remember the questions you have to go back to. Always double-check your answers.
Some students need to highlight information. Visual students especially may need to underline instructions or underline sections in the Comprehension passages that they think are important.
Self-Talk Strategies & Whole-Body Listening
In situations where attention is vital, the child may need to remind him or herself where they are using self-talk. Inner reminders such as ‘keep my eyes on the paper’ can be useful for staying on task. Incorporating whole-body listening is also good for self-monitoring. Students with attention difficulties can remind themselves that each body part has a function in focusing. For example, ‘My feet are down and still, my mouth is quiet, my ears are listening for any instructions that may be given, my hands are writing, and my brain is thinking about how to answer questions.’
Students with needs may benefit from strategies to manage their time during the exam. Based on preparation exams given, leading up to exam time, students should be aware of which sections or questions take them the longest to complete and can use this feedback to plan how to complete the papers in the allotted time.
Anxious thoughts make us feel that we are not good enough; therefore, we need to reframe how we think when we are anxious. For instance, instead of thinking, “I have an exam soon, I’m going to fail, I’m not good enough”, you can say, “I have an exam tomorrow, I’m not good at the Mathematics problem-solving questions, but I will crush Section 1 and do my best in Section 2. We can acknowledge our weaker areas in a manner that will not lead to panic. (GBM)