The Matric final exams represent the ultimate test at the end of one’s school career, and while it is an exciting milestone, almost all students find this period a test of their strength, endurance, focus, mental and physical fortitude and resilience. And while it’s a tough time for the Grade 12s, it is also hard for their parents, who know that there is only so much they can do to support their almost adult child, but who still want to do whatever they can to assist and smooth the road wherever possible.
“Our thoughts are always with the Matriculants facing one of the toughest assessment periods they have so far faced, but we should also spare a thought for parents of Matrics, who are faced with the anxiety of their children, while also hoping that they perform well enough to set them up to pursue their goals and dreams after school,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider.
Kriel says while parents often don’t know how they can support their children during this time, there are a few things they can do – and also a few things they should NOT do – to make things easier.
KEEP A CLOSE EYE
One of the most important ways a parent can support a child without being overbearing and too much in their space is to keep a close eye on the student. Leave them to get on with their studies, but look out for behaviours that could be cause for concern. For instance, get insight into their study schedule and, if procrastination is getting out of hand and can’t be reconciled with what the parent knows the student had planned for revision, gently suggest that you look at the schedule again together to see how the student can get back on track before falling too far behind. Empowerment trumps chastisement in these circumstances.
Keeping ahead of the game is key, as it is almost always possible to get back on track if things are not left too late.
On the physical wellness side, parents can help remind their child to get some sleep if they have been hitting the books for too long, too late at night. They can also ensure that students eat as healthy as possible while drinking plenty of water and getting exercise so that fatigue doesn’t impact their ability to study.
GET HELP TIMEOUSLY IF WARNING SIGNS ARISE
Unfortunately, some Matrics – even top performers – struggle during this time to such a degree that they may need additional or even professional support. If parents suspect that their child is struggling emotionally to deal with the increased pressure and stress, seek guidance from a mental health professional or a counsellor at school. While Matric exam results are undoubtedly very important, it is just as important to keep a sense of perspective, which sometimes becomes hard to do for students in the thick of it, who could potentially start catastrophising about results and their future.
Matric exams are only one part of one’s life – which will soon pass – and there will always be options available, even if those options follow a different path from the initial vision.
STAY CALM AND KEEP PERSPECTIVE
Just as it is important for students to try their best while keeping a sense of perspective, parents can do their part by keeping calm as well. Be a pillar of support when needed, but don’t pass your own anxiety on to your child. Fear about the future and concerns about how well prepared a child is are all factors that impact on the emotional state of parents, so they should therefore also take good care of themselves during this time so that they can regulate their own emotions and not contribute to heightened tensions and anxiety in the house.
Anxiety around final exams arises as a result of the belief that it is the final watershed assessment opportunity for young people. This fallacy arises because too many parents don’t understand the options available to learners should things not go as well as expected, and many don’t even know that there are options at all. Speaking to education professionals either at school or at a good institution of higher education about the myriad of options out there will provide a sense of perspective in terms of outcomes, and will allow parents to calibrate their own emotions.
HAVE A PLAN (AND A PLAN B) FOR NEXT YEAR
Once exams are over, allow students to take some time off to just enjoy themselves and blow off steam. However, don’t wait for Matric results before deciding about further study – by then it will likely be too late to gain entry into one’s choice of institution and qualification.
Sit down and have a brainstorm reflecting on the student’s expectations about how they performed during their final exams. If there is a possibility that they performed better than they initially thought they would, and that they may possibly qualify for further study or even a more specialised degree, start investigating options as soon as possible.
Here it is particularly helpful to approach reputable higher education institutions, private or public, directly to speak to a student advisor about the student’s options. Equally, if there is a possibility that a student may not have performed well enough to gain access to the institution or qualification of choice, student advisors will be able to assist with information about alternative routes to success.
Having a Plan A as well as a Plan B in place even before results day means that regardless of what happens, students and parents will know that they have a clear path ahead - irrespective of their performance or in the case of them performing better than expected - and that they won’t suddenly be confronted with a wasted year ahead.