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To Test, or not to Test... that's not really the question! it’s exam time at school again, the obvious question of “What’s the point?” has been cropping up from students and teachers alike. I don’t know what the merits and demerits to exams are, per se, but I love this time of term.

There is a great deal to be learnt from exam sessions, so that’s what I want to focus on in this post. Here are my “Exam Lessons” (in no particular order…)

1.     People who act dumb are sometimes dumb, but most of the time, they’re only acting dumb for your benefit. I am one of those horrible teachers who seat pupils in the class according to their term marks. Not because I think that stupid people deserve crappier seating (well, at least not completely for that reason… ) but because I feel that pupils who work hard should get the opportunity of sitting with like minded individuals. However, this seating arrangement unfailingly gets two results from my pupils: firstly, they’re shocked to see who actually gets the top marks in class and secondly, those pupils who caused the shock, continue to act stupid regardless of where they sit. Peer pressure is a little needle of a man who is out to spoil our fun and make smart kids feel guilty about being smarter than their pals.

2.    The devil’s in the details…  Case in point: my matric trials history and art paper botch up. I wrote an essay on Kerensky, the artist, and another essay on Kandisky the historical politician. I expected a distinction for both but received a pass for neither. Fortunately, the art teacher called me in and remarked the paper once we had discussed my mistake, resulting in a near distinction. The history teacher was not as forgiving.

3.    You can never be over prepared. Ask anyone who’s spot learnt for a test or exam and not been asked anything they’ve prepared for… there is no such thing as being over prepared. This applies to travelling, camping, cooking and doing your nails. 

4.    It's the pressure test that shows us what we’re made of. Our pastor used to refer to this as the “toothpaste tube effect.” You only know what’s inside when you’re squeezed on the outside. Exam time shows a pupil’s metal – their ability to apply what they know and do it within a time limit. As we often learn too late, this applies to a great many situations we face from day to day.

5.    The only way to improve a skill is to practise the skill. Where else but school will you be afforded the opportunity to practise your skills for passing tests and overcoming obstacles? Exams may seem small and slightly rudimentary when it comes to education, but you do learn a lot about being forced out of your comfort zone, answering questions you’re not entirely sure about and communicating your ideas in order to prove that they’re worth some merit.

The debate over exams will not soon be over. But while my pupils sit and write the gibberish they will try to pass off as what I have taught them, I watch them and realise that even those who walk away with fails, pass the test by simply showing up and giving it a try. If I had my school career over again, exam time would be the time of year when I would have shown my teachers just how clever I was, instead of trying to punish them by showing how little I cared for their subject. Which really brings me to my final observation or lesson…

6.     We usually only realise too late how little we really know.  

I sign off with this quote by Maxwell Maltz: We are built to conquer environment, solve problems, achieve goals, and we find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve.”

To all those writing exams or facing a test of some kind, may you Go forth and Conquer! 



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