The period leading up to exams — particularly if you are a senior, and your successful entry into your dream university will depend on your results —can be extremely challenging not only for students but also for teachers and parents!
Parents watch their teenagers go from ‘zero-to-hero’, studying until the last minute, staying up late, and having sudden tantrums. They worry that their children may not receive the scores they need to get into their dream university. Yet, what parents fear most is the disappointment their children will face if they are not satisfied with their marks.
Teachers also experience frustration and stress, particularly when their teaching skills are evaluated based on the performance of their students. But for many teachers, this period is much more than that. This period is about rising above, embracing John Keating-style methods, while also helping them understand that we are much more than just test scores.
As for students, we can certainly use a long line of adjectives to describe how students feel as exam season is approaching: nervous, frightened, tired, anxious, burned-out, sleep-deprived.
Perhaps my favorite response was: “I feel like I’m on a really large hamster wheel, like so big I don’t realize I’m running in circles and getting nowhere.” (Abigail S., AIS Vienna)
And although, we all know that as teenagers we tend to exaggerate —a lot(!) — as life begins to unravel, we look back now and understand that senior year in high school was, in fact, not that bad.
In education, fortunately, or unfortunately, the one thing we’ve managed to measure is our hard skills. Did we manage to achieve the scores to progress to the next learning level? Have we managed to graduate and claim our degree? Can we adequately speak a foreign language we began learning? These are yes or no responses, and depending on these responses we, as humans, are evaluated.
And say we achieved the degree we were working towards. Say that we studied to master the interview process at one of the Big Five consulting firms. What happens the next time we want to move and develop further in our academic and/or professional journey? Can we replicate the learning process that helped us in the past?
If in this learning process you’ve only focused on acquiring the appropriate knowledge needed to pass or to achieve a specific goal, i.e. graduating or landing your dream job, most likely you will not be able to replicate this process. The knowledge you acquired is specific to the goal you set. Thus knowledge acquisition is rather temporary.
If however, in your learning process you also develop durable skills – soft skills – that help you better understand a challenge, a task, or even yourself, this can be replicated in any goal you set in life.
Exam taking for example. You can read textbooks, and practice solving different exercises over and over again. Why then during your exam do you become overwhelmed when one factor in the question you’ve studied changes? Does this mean you did not study enough?
It is definitely not in the hours of studying you put in, but more so in your mindset in terms of the way you studied. It is about understanding and critically examining the structure, the components, and the overarching themes of the question, so that you learn how to tackle questions in whatever context, to learn how to deconstruct a question in order to be able to construct a solution or a path towards solving a problem.
In short, during this period of course you must read, review and practice in order to have a better grasp of the knowledge that is required of you, and also how to put that knowledge into practice. You must also though, understand how you will be able to apply the knowledge you are acquiring horizontally, in different contexts, and with factors that may change along the way.
Explore and then tap into your soft skills in order to achieve results and durable impact.