Driving on country roads is enjoyable and can also provide time for some reflection. Such an opportunity this week allowed me to consider the learning my younger son has been undertaking in sitting his VCE exams and by extrapolation, the learning that our Year 12 students may also have been doing over the last week or so.

The VCE exams are set by the State to test our students’ learning in their academic subjects. This is useful and an important task of itself and personal best academic results are our goal as individuals (students), our wish for our children as parents, as teachers and as a school.

It has been interesting to observe as well as support my son on these exams days and the time leading up to them, as he has come to terms with the inevitability of their occurrence (I suspect there were times that he wished that it might all be a bad nightmare), the finality of concluding school (a sad time for a young man who has always loved the social interaction and range of activities at school), the fear of possible failure, of the future and not being quite sure of what he wishes to do (career) in the years to come.

My thoughts as we rolled along country roads were that our Year 12 students learn much from their VCE exams if they are approached positively. There is the obvious result of a clear indication of their knowledge in their respective subjects, but there is much more.

Nearly everybody gets stressed by exams, even those looking as ‘cool as a cucumber’. We all feel pressure to some extent. Stress reactions are a normal mind and bodily reaction to pressure and if handled correctly help you perform at your best.
Writing down your fears, even speaking them out loud to yourself or discussing them with a trusted person helps. Understanding your fears places them in perspective.

In an exam, focussing on the moment is important: answer the next question. Living in the ‘now’ is an important mental skill to develop. Learning to manage physical aspects of stress is useful. Slowing breath is useful, especially breathing out slowly and then learning to stand tall and act confidently: this sends positive physical messages to our brain. Chewing on something also helps, but is not always possible or allowed. Chewing something sends a message to your body that the situation must be OK if you can stop to eat something.

But perhaps the best way to manage stress reactions and an important lesson to learn is the power of the five P’s: Perfect preparation predicts powerful performance.

More on how to manage stress in exams can be found at Andrew Fuller’s LinkedIn post. Andrew is the psychologist advising Resilient Youth Australia, who designs and manages the wellbeing surveys we use with students each year.

There is lots of learning to do in an exam situation, apart from the obvious. It is about staying focussed on your child, our student as a whole person, not just the academic knowledge.

PS. Our country drive was a great day out and my younger son’s VCE results will be what they will be. He has also taken on a challenge that caused him considerable fear and anxiety prior to the event and he has come through, having learned about himself as a person.