Exams and assessment are the focus at this time of the year for both staff and students alike. Currently our senior boys are undertaking their exams and our junior boys are preparing for theirs, we hope. Given the importance placed on exams in the educational setting, I ask, what should this mean for our boys and how should they respond?
The first thing we must understand is the summative nature of this form of assessment. Exams seek to get a sense of what students have learnt and how well they have learnt it. They are a culmination of a unit or semester of work. They certainly are not a determiner of the quality or intelligence of a student. Rather they are probably more an indicator of how hard they have worked and prepared.
So, whilst we should continue to emphasize their importance as an element of the learning process, we should never over play their importance. This being said, I hope with all my heart that all our boys have worked hard and given themselves every opportunity to meet their expectations as well as ours.
I worry a little about the pressure or stress our students face because of the emphasis society places on exam results. When combined with the pressure our students put on themselves as they strive for ‘success’, I want to once again remind them that exams need to be treated for what they are, and given the status required. They should never be seen as a matter of life or death or success or failure. They should be another form of feedback both to the students and the teachers of what has transpired over the time. I think it is a good thing to feel a little stress or anxiety as we build up to exams, as that is a motivating factor which drives us to want to achieve. However, rather than worrying too much about the exams themselves, students would be far better off asking themselves about their preparation. Have they done enough to prepare for their exams, have they put in the work? If the answer to these questions is yes, then everything else will fall into place.
Most of us know before entering an exam where our preparation is at. We know that there are times when we have prepared well and worked hard and we are going to do well, and then there are other times when we are aware that our preparation is not what it should have been. Whether it be due to laziness, procrastination or situations outside our control, we know that we’re not going to do so well. In each of these circumstances it is important to be honest with ourselves and our loved ones as there are two important insights for us, the first that there will be no nasty surprises and secondly that being honest is likely to provide the greatest learning for us.
When it comes to our results, seeing a good result as success and a poor result as a failure is a little simplistic. I suggest that neither the doing well, nor the not doing so well, is the true measure of success. Really what we should be looking for is the feedback our results provide for us. Ultimately, the measure of success will come internally. It comes when we accept our successes and failures for what they are. When we can reconcile them to ourselves either by knowing that we have done our best, or that our less successful results have come about due to a lack of effort on our part, or maybe even because we just didn’t have the skills to complete that given task. In other words, we take responsibility for our achievements, good or bad, and be content in the knowledge that generally we get what we deserve. This is extremely important, as no matter where you go in life, the one certainty is that you only have yourself to rely on. Your thoughts, efforts, skills and experience will be what determines your successes in any given challenge you face. You will be the one consistent in your life, no matter how your circumstances may change. You are you, and you alone decide how proud you are of yourself and what you are going to do with the hand you are dealt.
We also need to keep in mind the intrinsic value we receive from our ‘successes’ i.e. good results. For it has been said that uninterrupted success is less satisfying than success intertwined with failure. I would argue that this is not rocket science. A study at a major university concluded that success may be sweeter, but failure is the better teacher. We have a tendency to ignore failure, i.e. a poor result, or to try not to focus on it. meaning that vital lessons for the future are overlooked in the rush to discount or ignore our disappointment.
How many students feel downcast because they fare worse than their friends in outcomes, tests or exams? Society has brainwashed us into thinking that education is an obstacle race where one must clear every fence faster and higher than other students, therefore taking these results out of context.
Our world is success-crazed, placing very simple measures on what it is to be successful, and sadly this has spilled over into the world of school exams and results. If you have a low-paid job, you’re a loser. If you drive an old car, there is something wrong with you. If you cannot stick to your diet, but sneak down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a biscuit, you’re a waste of space.
Such is the social stigma attached to failure that people who have failed, for whatever reason, go into denial. They pretend everything is hunky-dory when they would be better off taking stock of their lives and working out how to learn from the setback.
Most successful people have either come up the hard way or have had to overcome periods of chronic self-doubt, when the whole world seemed to be against them.
Winston Churchill was absolutely miserable at school. J.K. Rowling received a mountain of rejection slips before finding a publisher for the Harry Potter novels. There are hundreds of examples of people who learned from their failures, bounced back and found success.
Could any of them have achieved the success they did if their lives had been an effortless progression from triumph to triumph? Perhaps, but it is more likely that it was the determination born in failure that put steel in their soul.
Nowhere is the galvanising effect of failure more evident than in sport. The winner takes the prize, but losers are not crushed: they grit their teeth and vow to try harder next time. They have a never-say-die spirit. The history of sport is littered with heroes who refused to feel sorry for themselves when they were down. Failure? They did not know the meaning of the word.
Of course we should not romanticise losing or getting a poor result, but we do need to fight, tooth and nail, the perception that failure is a terminal disease, its sufferers doomed. So often, in every walk of life, but especially at school, it can be a wake-up call, heralding a new start.
Acknowledgement: Max Davidson
Please enjoy a few quotes that may provide inspiration as we face the challenges that lay ahead.
‘Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.’ – Sir Winston Churchill
‘Try and fail but don’t fail to try.’ – Stephen Kaggwa
‘There is no failure except in no longer trying.’ – Elbert Hubbard
‘Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure…it just means you haven’t succeeded yet.’ – Robert Schuller
With this thought in mind, I wish all of our students well with their remaining exams and encourage them to be honest in their reflection on the results they obtain, use the results as feedback for future learning and then move on and make the most of what you have achieved.
For us adults, parents and educators, we should also be asking these questions of ourselves: Have we done enough in our teaching and in our support? Have we reassured them that their results will not impact on how much we love them? Have we given them the resilience to bounce back if things don’t go as they would like? Whilst we all want the best for our kids and we hope all of their assessment results are good, we too must remember that they are merely an indicator of where they are at with regards to understanding of their subjects at this given time. They are not an indicator of their worth as a person.
I especially encourage our senior students who have completed their exam period to focus on their studies for the two weeks of Head Start, to ensure they get themselves off to the best possible start for their final year of studies and set themselves up to achieve results commensurate with their ability. I wish all students in Year 7 to 9 good luck as they prepare for exams over the coming weeks.
Have a great week and God Bless.