It’s mad March and I have a list of deadlines so long I dare not look at it. Mostly I’m aiming for the 31st. Like the students, I wonder how I’ll manage but, unlike them, I’ve climbed this mountain enough times to know I will manage. The word ‘stress’ crops up with alarming regularity and demoralising predictability.
As I watch the students deal with all these challenges in a variety of ways that reflect their personalities and, to some extent, predict their success, I see those in denial who know they haven’t worked but hope it’ll be alright (for some it is) to those super organised types with their eyes on the prize. I want to let them into a little secret, though I’m sure none of them would believe me at this frantic point in their careers.
The secret is this: exams don’t matter, not in the long term. They’re a giant con designed to sort and categorise you, but when the results fall in your lap, no matter how good or terrible they seem, they’ll be done with and the real tests begin.
These are the tests where you don’t tick a box, solve an equation or write an essay. Do you go travelling, take a lover, forgive a friend? How do you accept a loss, stay out of debt or make the best of hard options? These are the real tests. We teachers are good at giving advice, homework, detentions! It’s just that the answers escape us. It’s far easier to keep our eyes on the prize of good exam results where, if you follow our advice and do the homework, there will be no detentions and you’ll get full marks. It’s a shock to stop and realize our real challenges can’t be revised for. Maybe that’s a blessing.
I would like to divert my ramblings from the serious turn they’ve taken and tell a funny story or crack a joke. It seems I’m fresh out of both. The best thing about knowing that exams are not the be all and end all of life is that, however they turn out, they are only one of a range of options. If all of us can remember this, we might find that all that stress buzzing about would diminish. I’ve been Googling the best relaxation techniques for pre-exam nerves. The first five suggestions are advice on breathing deeply, meditating, living in the present, reaching out to others and tuning in to your body. Seems to me that if we can get these right, not only will we cope with exams but we’ll cope with all the rest of our lives.
Life needs to be lived at a pace where it can be enjoyed rather than one where we’re rushing to tick off deadlines. Meanwhile, I’ll take a deep breath and deal with the deadlines.