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SPM exams: Can our kids take the pressure?

SPM exams: Can our kids take the pressure?

KUALA LUMPUR: Last night, the nation was shocked by the news of a teenager taking his life after failing to answer one of his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) papers.

The 17-year-old Chinese-language drama actor from SMK Raja Abdullah was found hanging by his necktie in an apartment unit in Taman Jinjang after failing to answer his Additional Mathematics Paper 1 questions.


The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.
The incident jarred many Malaysians, who expressed their sympathy and dismay on-line over the tragic death.

Many were also puzzled as to what could have driven the youngster to act in such a way.

Audrey Vijaindren spoke to psychologists, students and parents about academic expectations, preparations and fears which students endured as they prepared for the SPM examinations, which many regard sets the stage for success or failure in later life.

MANY Asian countries, Malaysia included, have the typical Asian academic culture where a child’s academic success is cherished and associated with success and happiness later in life.

This “achievement-driven” attitude is putting undue stress on children, especially during the crucial exam years such as when they are sitting the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination.

“Asian families have high academic expectations and the attitude they demonstrate to their children is one that is achievement-driven.

“Exams, therefore, are emphasised for their ability to gauge their children’s achievements and innate aptitude to succeed,” said Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy counselling psychologist Cathie Wu.

She said children’s stress usually came from parents and teachers.

“The desire to motivate their children to achieve success and happiness in life is natural for parents and is not the problem behind this phenomenon of overstressed students.

“It’s when over achievement and perfectionism is expected, as the only acceptable form of self-worth and success a child can show and that the child has no other personal qualities that can be accepted or celebrated. That puts immense physical and mental pressure on the children.”

Wu said the overemphasis on examination results had led to many children experiencing panic attacks and heightened anxiety and depression, which not only decrease their ability to perform academically, but also erode their confidence and self-worth.

While Western countries steer children into areas that interest them, she said, our syllabus focused on mugging for examinations.

“Malaysian kids quickly learn that interests, hobbies, and other forms of creative exploration do not matter.

“As is often apparent in depressed kids, they come to question the meaning and purpose of life beyond striving for exam results, and grow evermore frustrated and helpless in their outlook on life.”

Parents, Wu said, should demonstrate to their children that they empathise and understand their struggles during this difficult exam period.

“Support your children by helping them find coping strategies.

“Motivate them by incorporating meaning and purpose into difficult study materials. “

Reinforce good study ethics and attitudes rather than focus solely on results.

“Be vigilant to signs of anxiety, depression, isolation, withdrawal and poor coping skills. She said students sitting the SPM exam should take regular short breaks to improve their ability to sustain focus.
There’s a lot of pressure on students to perform well in exams. The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.


They should seek to comprehend their study material instead of merely memorising them, she said.

“To maintain sanity, it may be helpful to find relaxation techniques to manage anxiety because high anxiety levels cripple the ability to think and recall. “

They should practise these relaxation techniques often.”

Wu stressed that students should not neglect their health and, should eat healthy and get enough sleep.

“Physical deprivation has detrimental effects on memory and critical thinking. “

Also, reward yourself in small but satisfying ways to keep yourself motivated. “

Finally, take some time to reflect on your non-academic talents, interests, and strengths.

Develop a healthy sense of self-worth.”

Wu’s view was shared by her colleague, clinical psychologist Dr Charis Geevarughese. “


Students should visualise exams as hurdles that they are slowly overcoming. There’s a lot of pressure on students to perform well in exams. The overemphasis on examination results places immense pressure on schoolchildren.
The big emphasis on exams in Malaysia is partly due to the fact that our education system is based on older traditions and influenced by British colonisation. Exams are the traditional way of evaluating the retention of information taught to students.”

Stress could be the result of many things, she said, adding that self-imposed pressure or goals were contributing factors.

“If a child does not believe other parts of themselves matter or are of less value than grades, there will be stress. Geevarughese said family or parental influence and hopes about exam performances and the pressure to get scholarships for higher education were also important factors. “

It was recently announced that Malaysia ranks third highest in Asia in terms of the cost of tertiary education compared with household income. “Exam scores are the gateway to placement in a university.

So, there is a lot of pressure to perform well.” Geevarughese said parents should show their children how to handle stressful situations, such as exams, by handling work stress well. “

Parents should make time for their children, and study and work with them.

“Set goals and provide rewards for meeting those goals.

“Talk to your children often about how they are coping and feeling.

“Don’t assume that they are not studying and don’t care about their studies when you see them taking break.

“You never know, they may have been studying the whole time and just decided to take their first break when you saw them resting.

“Find out what their goals are and encourage them to determine what scores they want to achieve and help them work towards that goal.

” As they sit one of the toughest examinations of their life, Geevarughese advised SPM students to have a “fun mantra, theme song or fight song” that they could sing when they got stressed.

“It is the toughest right now but not the be all and end all.
When we get tunnel vision it’s easy to get panicky and go ‘insane’.

“Take breaks when studying. For example, take a five minute break for every 30 minutes of studying.

Take a walk, have a nap, sing a song, take a dance break or have a candy reward.”

She said they should try to see the bigger picture by visualising the exam as a hurdle that they were slowly overcoming. “

For example, picture yourself chipping away at a wall or marking off the days in the calendar.

Find ways to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Tags: assessment, exam, pressure, spm, stress
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