Exams prepare us for crisis

Why exams prepare us for crisis

Why do we do exams?

We do exams to prepare us for crisis.

Have you ever walked into an exam, read the questions and suddenly realised that you only know one of the three essay questions. You start to panic and anxiety sets in. Your strategy suddenly shifts from getting an ‘A’ to instead passing – keeping your head above water with 50%. It is then time to focus.

A crisis is no different.

Most of the time, throughout life we set long term plans. Everything we do, the tactics, are toward something in the distance, whether that be next week or next year. We have time.

There is panic and anxiety to start with, then we focus quickly.

Doug Keim, president of Business Made Simple in the US used the analogy of playing chess and tennis to explain how fast they had to turn their business around as a response to COVID19. (Ep #196 Storybrand podcast)

Chess is a strategic game, carefully and thoughtfully played out. Tennis on the other hand requires you to call on your memory muscle in the moment and respond quickly. There is no sitting on the sideline in the middle of a shot working out what the best play should be.

Exams are like a game of tennis

I am a supporter of the idea that we should focus on our strengths and surrounding ourselves with people that compliment us – have strengths in areas that we don’t.

One of my strengths is Judgement. By its very nature it is perceived slow moving. It means thinking things through and examining them from all sides not jumping to conclusions.

I use this as an example of why I wasn’t very good at exams. When I am confronted with a problem I needed time to consider it before addressing it. So does this also mean I would not be good in a crisis? Can I not respond quickly?

Well I have given this some thought 🙂

What judgment gives me is reliable memory muscle. Because I have had experiences and thought things through I can draw upon considered knowledge and bring them to the table. Just like a tennis player has had hours and hours of practice hitting back at so many different shots from so many different angles from different players they know how to respond quickly when they see it again.

An exam is like a game of tennis rather than a game of chess.<br /> To win relies on muscle memory and we have to move quickly.

Exams prepare us for a crisis

An exam often starts with panic and anxiety. We then read through the questions and get focused. We have limited time to draw on what we know and communicate it in a way the reader needs.

The same happens in a crisis.

I have questioned why do we put kids through exams. There is rarely an occasion beyond the classroom that we do not have people, time and resources available to us to address a problem. Except in a crisis.

The experience of an exam, mastering that process is a really useful life skill. It is not merely a mechanism for summative assessment.

The key then is doing the exam well. Doing the crisis well.

Understanding how our knowledge is relevant in the new context.

This is an example of making what we learn and experience in school relevant to thriving in life. This way we remember it and commit it to memory so we can draw upon it when needed.

Hardship is a gift. It is the only thing that transforms us. Exams are moments of hardship that challenge us to come alive. See them as an opportunity to hone those skills that leaders draw upon to provide inspiration, example and calm for the people that need us to deliver it.

This is why we do exams.

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