When I was in high school and junior college I was often up the night (and morning) before an examination. At home the clock chimes every hour. At midnight I would be hunched over at the study table, scribbling model answers to questions in the ten-year series guidebooks I got from a Bras Basah bookstore. Chimes. At one I would be sprawled on my bed, flipping through textbooks and past year papers. Chimes. At two I would sink into my red chair, trying my darndest to memorise mathematical formulae I rarely understood. Chimes. At three I would have given up, and probably spotted topics or questions with my fingers crossed.
Each chime lasts 20 seconds. And each time it goes I reproach myself, “you useless twat, why didn’t you start earlier?” I was always a nervous wreck. The next day in school when people proclaimed they didn’t prepare well or long enough, I was always sceptical.
And now I see these scenes played out by the young ones on social media, Twitter especially. Through the late nights and early mornings. There are tweets of anxieties, exasperation, and desperation. There is guilt – the guilt of procrastination, the same guilt I felt years ago. There are posts of disappointment after examinations. Yet when I read them now – beyond the “don’t stress yourself” and assurances that things will get better – I’m at a loss for words.
It’s true though, about things getting better. At least they have for me. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t care about examinations or that results don’t matter in college, but as my horizons expanded school has featured less. Despite my “A” Level woes I have been quite lucky in school. At Chinese High under the new Integrated Programme there was less emphasis on mid- and final-year examinations (and more on projects, class participation, and research papers), and at university assessment methods are now more continuous.
I mean I still get nervous moments before a paper (actually, I think the moments before the release of results are more nerve-wrecking), yet when you realise that life is more than that silly paper or grade – because success can be achieved in so many ways – you try your best and take more in your stride, even if regrets and all those nasty insecurities persist.
From a policy perspective on examinations I’ll say look to Finland, even though I might be called out as a hypocrite. “In Finland at the Aalto School of Business there are two or three examination sittings each semester, and if the student does make these two or three attempts the better grade would be registered. If at the first attempt the student is not confident a written “Do Not Grade” on the cover page would be duly acknowledged. Moreover papers are usually four hours long. Candidates do not realistically require that length of time, but the absence of that time factor means they are not rushing to churn out content as fast as possible or crafting “time management” strategies, and actually focusing on the questions”.
Chimes. It’s 10. There’s a managerial accounting paper tomorrow evening, and the entire day has been spent blogging and replying to emails. I still wish to do well, but it’s hardly the be-all and end-all. I’ve prepared as best I could, and that’s good enough for me.