Tests and Assessments? Don’t Panic! – Psychologists Give Advice to Schoolchildren in Remote Learning

Psychologists of South Ural State University have given recommendations on how to overcome stress during the coronavirus pandemic. In an epidemiological situation, everyone has to live and work in a new way. Today there are no people left who have not been affected by the changes. Everyone is forced to adapt and try to maintain the usual rhythm of life. And first of all, schoolchildren and students (and that means the entire education system) have had to get used to the rearranged reality.

Oksana Koneva, Candidate of Sciences (Psychology), Associate Professor of the Department of General Psychology, Psychodiagnostics and Counselling, explained how not to panic in stressful conditions and learn without losing efficiency.

─ Has the pandemic affected the beginning of the academic year?

─ The beginning of each new academic year is an emotionally difficult, and even stressful period for many children. It's challenging to come to a class after a long summer break, and to adapt again to the learning environment. And this year, after being self-isolated and on an a distant learning, it is doubly difficult. For example, it is difficult to take the all-Russian verification tests carried out in order to monitor the results of the transition to the Federal State Education Standards. But they are necessary in order to understand what gaps in knowledge the children have after the spring distant format of learning, what topics still need to be revised, and how to adjust the programmes in academic subjects. They seem to be good intentions. But the main thing now is to enter the rhythm normally, to assess the psychological and physical condition of children, and the epidemiological situation in which we find ourselves.

─ In September, we observed very bad results of the All-Russian Verification Tests among schoolchildren. Almost 100% failed. Can it be that the only reason for it is the distant format of studying?

─ The first month of autumn is exactly the period of adaptation of schoolchildren to school. Carrying out testing procedures is impractical either physiologically or psychologically during this period. And if there is a need to assess the result of distance learning, then this should be done, in my opinion, no earlier than in October, because everyone studies in very different ways and as best they can. It should be noted that the situation of assessment is almost always stressful for many people. Teachers, students, parents are those participants in the educational process who need psychological support. It is easy to say ‘Don’t panic!’ and ‘It will pass’...This is what Solomon used to say! But in what way are we not to panic? Collective panic is not just the fear of different people. Such panic spreads like a real information virus, grows exponentially and leads to massive behavioural disorders.

─ Is there a way to deal with panic?

─ The modern knowledge testing system is arranged in such a way that schoolchildren from the 4th form are already beginning to prepare for the examinations. Children get used to this system of assessing their knowledge and are less anxious. The main thing here, in my opinion, is not for parents to panic. Like, what if their child does not get high scores, or fails all together? The main task of parents is to reduce the level of anxiety both in themselves and in children. Children feel much more calm about exams than their parents do. Learn from your kids!

─ What mistakes do parents make?

─ Unfortunately, many parents make mistakes when preparing their child for such procedures. The most common mistake is the attitude to the all-Russian verification tests as a testing that can be passed only at the cost of great sacrifices and, above all, at the cost of health. Such attitude of the parents creates problems for the child. Parents often use intimidation and “horror stories”, which are bad helpers in coping with stress. Another very common parental mistake is comparing your child with more successful peers, older brothers and sisters, emphasizing their success and positive qualities. In fact, all this rarely leads to the desire to defeat the opponent or “look up to him”, but most often it can simply create a conflict situation in the family. Excessive fuss, guardianship, total control and the demand for intensive training that violate the regime of work and rest (‘Why are you not studying?’, ‘How much did you memorize?’, ‘Why are you doing this and not that?’), mainly cause irritation and protest. Parents are often outraged by the child's desire to take a walk, get distracted, go to the movies, or just lie on the couch listening to music. Undoubtedly, the fear of the all-Russian verification tests and the emphasis that the has responsibilities with regard to school, teachers, and parents increases the anxiety. ‘Mom won't survive this’, ‘Granny will be upset’, ‘I will feel ashamed in front of my parents’ are not the arguments that will help relieve anxiety.

─ How can you help your child in preparing for tests and exams?

─ The most important factor in determining your child's success is psychological support. Supporting a child means believing in him/her. There are many ways to provide psychological support to your child. The first way is to demonstrate your satisfaction with his/her achievements or efforts: ‘You have already achieved so much!’ Another way is to teach the child to cope with various tasks by building an attitude: ‘You can do it!’ ‘Knowing you, I am sure that you will do everything well’, ‘You know this very well’.

─ As a psychologist, what advice could you share on preparing for tests and exams? I think it will also be very useful to students during the examination period.

─ I would like to share the secrets of time management that help prioritize educational matters, determine the amount of energy to do things, and be in good mood. The main technique is the planning method: 1-3-5. It is necessary to write a list of 9 cases and divide them into the following groups: 1 most important and difficult case (for example, the all-Russian verification test or exam); 3 smaller and less energy-consuming cases; and 5 very small things that don't require a lot of energy. Now let’s speak in detail about each group. An important and complex matter is that our resources are limited. If you focus on only one and important thing, you will find time and energy for it. As soon as you define the main task, write down all the stages of its implementation, thus you will reach the goal faster. Then we take three smaller and less energy-consuming cases. Write down tasks that take little time and can be completed on another day if there is no time now. Such cases can move from plan to plan and eventually become an important task. It's quite normal. The main thing is to understand, what the focus of attention is, and what can be sacrificed. Now, let’s speak about five very small things: routine and daily tasks. They do not require concentration and shift during the week. You can set aside time for such tasks during the day or do it in between major activities.

─ Is self-organization all we need?

─ Self-organization is an opportunity to achieve the maximum effect with the least expenditure of energy, time, and materials; correct use of time with the greatest result; and clear vision of the purpose, meaning, order of implementation, and priorities of work. The concepts of “adaptation” and “self-organization” in the mainstream of modern education are closely related. The time of adaptation depends on the student's self-organization in learning, i.e. how quickly the learner will be able to adapt to the changed conditions. And, vice versa, the success of adaptation affects self-organization, and therefore the learning results.

─ Have you faced similar difficulties?

─ According to my experience, being a mother of a schoolgraduate, I would say that I am absolutely convinced of the following: if, during the school year, the parents have been able to instil in the child confidence that his/her life will not end after a difficult period of exams and tests, that they will not stop loving him/her, even if he/she scores not that high at the all-Russian verification tests, basic state examinations, or unified state exams, then the teenager will be calmer. Therefore, do not avoid communication during study, or stressful situations - go towards the child, ask him/her questions and offer options for help. But at the same time, make it clear that exams and studies are his/her field of responsibility. I wish you success!

We thank Oksana Koneva and the Department of General Psychology, Psychodiagnostics and Counselling for the material provided.

Elena Kiriakova, photo by Max Fischer: Pexels
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