Learning from exams

‘Hi ho silver lining’ – Jeff Beck.

Ten alternative lessons to take from sitting exams.

The summer term can be a particularly trying period for secondary pupils because of school and public exams. Some students enjoy the challenge and competition of exams, others hate the whole experience, while some feel frustration when they’ve worked hard, only to be disappointed by their results. 

Immediate lessons learnt from taking exams will include: whether the pupil works too quickly or too slowly, whether they understand and respond appropriately to exam questions and whether their revision has been effective.

However, it can be helpful to view exams from a broader perspective. Every experience in life, fun, challenging, sad or otherwise offers the individual an opportunity for personal growth. You take from all experiences what you will, so why not take positive lessons?

Ten alternative lessons to take from sitting exams: –

  1. Errors provide us with opportunities to develop and improve our performance.

We can correct the mistakes made in an exam; noting the changes that need to be made to our exam and revision techniques. 

Human beings learn by trial and error. When we accept that making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process, then learning opportunities become more important than the errors we make. 

  1. It is helpful to be able to remain calm under pressure.

A hard exam will be hard for everyone, but if you can remain calm and still do your best, you are certain to achieve better grades than those who panic. The ability to keep calm under pressure is always useful.

  1. Understanding is preferable to memorising

Students with good memories may do well in exams, but in the long term, be unable to apply information they have learnt by rote. Anyone who understands rather than memorises, will be able to use their knowledge for problem solving and higher order thinking. 

  1. Working effectively saves lots of time. 

Exams are about working effectively. Always spend time planning how to approach a problem, rather than launching in without thought and wasting time with unnecessary activity.

  1. To compete against yourself rather than against others. 

There will always be somebody who does better in an exam than you. Compete against your own personal bests rather than anyone else’s, in order to avoid being discouraged. Taking small steps towards personal targets, in life is the way to make progress.

  1. When we solve our own problems, our self-confidence increases. 

Work out for yourself what went wrong in an exam or in another situation in life. Individuals who can solve their own problems will experience feelings of success: this will be motivating and support their self-confidence. A virtuous circle will then develop with the individual becoming more resilient, persistent, and applying greater effort to future challenges because they feel that they will be successful. 

  1. How we can motivate ourselves.

If you remind yourself of why you want to do well in this exam, perhaps to prove something to a teacher, to be able to study a subject for GCSE or ‘A’ Level or because a good grade is necessary for your chosen job or career, you will learn a valuable lesson about motivation. Work out what is in it for you. Try to look at situations in the long term. Maybe you would prefer to be out with friends on a Friday night, rather than at home working: it’s down to you. Immediate pleasure or delayed gratification: the choice is yours.

  1. Resilience is an invaluable personal attribute. 

It is worth remembering when you make mistakes in life as in exams, you will always have another chance. There will always be another exam to take or an opportunity to re-sit an exam. Allow yourself time to feel irritated, embarrassed, upset or disappointed and then move on or try again. 

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius (Chinese philosopher)

  1. Creativity is born out of change. 

Failure in a test will encourage us to find new ways to do things, rather than repeat the same unsuccessful approach. Tackling a problem differently will mean exploring alternative ways of working, and we can then apply some of those new approaches to other situations. 

  1. Human beings are strongest when they co-operate

When you struggle to understand what went wrong in an exam, one solution would be to ask someone for help. Being able to work with others is an essential life skill: sometimes they will help you, and sometimes you will help them. What goes around, comes around.

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