There are some things you can avoid and some you can’t. If you are in year 11 or above in a New Zealand school it’s likely you’ve experienced exams of some form. In fact parents and older generations will happily give you a version of ‘in my day…’ followed by some seriously exaggerated tale of torture about tests or exams. As a ritual and right of passage they tend to mark the end of innocence with learning. It doesn’t really matter what system you are familiar with exams mean something else. Learning becomes serious business, connected to the future – a life beyond school apparently called ‘the real world’ once the big E makes it’s presence known. In my experience both personally and working both as a teacher and counsellor I’ve noticed a growing trend to define and attach large amounts of personal identity to success (or lack of success) with exam results.
Ok sure I understand that there are things like University Entrance, competition to get into courses and a desire to do well. But I see young people mapping their entire lives out in front of them based on one result. Doing your best doesn’t seem good enough anymore and that is a bit of a worry. I don’t think anyone is to blame but I do wonder at times about a culture of success that is born out of an idea that effort = result and that anyone can be the best creates some fairly unrealistic expectations at times. Exams don’t even really test intelligence in all it’s multiple elements and dimensions. It’s a task, a game that some learn to play really well and some get through while others find the rules just don’t work for them. Ironically if you do your homework you can find plenty of examples of people who have gone onto interesting careers and paths who didn’t do all that well at school.
Getting anxious before an exam is normal and stress does strange things to your ability to remember stuff. You are not your ability to recall. That is a fact that needs to be remembered at all times. Exams do not define you or make you a worthy person. Sure some doors might seem more available if you do well but your life has meaning beyond the criteria of rank scores. You are always Excellence simply by being a unique individual.
Finally I wonder whether exams will exist in 50 years or if they will look different and reflect a new understanding of knowledge, wisdom, individuality and collectiveness. One thing I am sure of, if they are still around once the final one is done it’s time to celebrate hard out.