Tales From the Chalkface: Mind Over Matter

I’m caught up in the student hysteria that is meeting the deadline for exam work, as well as the anxiety of revision for mock exams or, in some cases, the real thing.

One of my private students has just taken her CAE exam at the British Council and the week before she was anxious enough to want a lesson every evening, which wasn’t possible, nor really in her best interests. The evening before the big day, it is definitely better to go easy on yourself and close books by 8pm so you can unwind before a good night’s sleep.

Having said that, although I did take my own advice back at the dawn of time when I had exams to do, it was only because I am a morning person and my whole system shuts down at that time of the evening – I knew that I would wake up at 5am and do frantic revision as dawn was breaking. I don’t suppose this is much more advisable than burning the midnight oil.

The harsh truth is that, if you’ve put in the work over the course and done most of what your teachers have advised you to do, the chances are you will be rewarded with fair results. If you haven’t done this, no amount of cramming will put it right in the last week.

Each year I watch a whole class of students deal with the challenges of exams and it is pleasing to see the ones who have worked get their reward by meeting the stresses and strains head on and, if not sailing through, at least keeping afloat on the rough waters of an exam schedule.

On the other hand, it’s hard to watch the idlers meet the consequences of their actions. These boys – and they usually are boys – either go into denial and become convinced that, contrary to all the evidence, they will pass with flying colours, or they panic and begin to revise until 3am in the morning, often going ‘sick’ and missing vital last-minute tips that most teachers keep for their students and bring out when most in need. These are the ones disappointed on results day.

The most painful type of student to help through exams is the clever but frantically nervous. These are usually girls, who hamper themselves by panicking and talking themselves into near failure. I spent some time this week trying to get one particularly highly-strung candidate to take up meditation or to visualise scenes of her success. I’m not sure she was convinced, but I hope she will find a way of calming herself otherwise her unquiet mind will prevent her from showing her best work.

Not all I do is geared to exams. Some of next week’s lessons concern sex education. One of the practical activities involves putting condoms on suitably shaped vegetables. Thank goodness there’s no exam for that.

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