Final exams: Just the first step

By: Ala AlGamdi


The tension in the air is palpable around university campuses, as students prepare for their final exams. After all, this short period of time can make or break the efforts of an entire year of study, or more. Its no wonder that final exam season is fraught with tears and prayers. We all went through this — final exam panic is pretty much a rite of passage for the intelligentsia.

It is easy to see the solemnity of exams because of how much power they hold over one’s academic career. But let’s stop for a moment to rationally consider the utility of what is, after all, not an absolute necessity but a cross-cultural norm and custom. Formal education, throughout its history, has relied on the exam. Exams have sometimes been verbal, sometimes written, or a combination. Examination may be frequent or it may occur only at the end of a year or term; generally, the less frequent the exam, the more there is riding on it.

Are exams the best measure of a students’ ability or knowledge? Of course not. Though meant to be fair and objective, exams in general fail to live up to this ideal simply because students will react differently to them. For some, writing an exam is such an anxiety-provoking process that one’s thought processes feel clouded by the pressure of it all. A student who knows the material well may face extra challenges in trying to demonstrate that knowledge in an exam setting. Usually, these barriers are not insurmountable, and conquering them, through discipline and hard work, may be very beneficial to the student. But the fact remains that the desire to establish an even playing field through examination often fails.

For every student who feels crippled by panic during exam month, there is another who thrives under the pressure. Hard as it may be for some of us to believe, there are truly students like that — individuals who feel inspired by the short, concerted pressure of an exam and are able to remember facts they never thought they knew.

The point is, all students are different, and there would have to be a hundred different exam formats if we were to try and accommodate them all. Just as, in athletics, some of us are better at long distance running, and some at short, intense sprints, individual temperament and talent largely determines what they find easy and hard. It isn’t and can never be a totally even playing field, but luckily, life itself eventually evens the score. We will all encounter things that are hard and things that are easy during the course of our education, career and life. We have to appreciate the ease and rise to the challenges of the difficult times.

There are some basic things you can do to make exam period more manageable for you. For one thing, make sure you keep up with your studies throughout the year, not just for these few weeks. It will lessen the pressure on the exam to raise your grades while giving you a serious head start in studying. Also, take care of yourself during exam period. Resist the temptation to stay up all night studying. Sleep and eat well; maintain some balance in your life and it will make you better able to deal with the pressure.

Finally, recognize that final exams are not the culmination of your learning — in many ways they are just the start. There’s an old joke that I’ve heard many times: “What do you call a medical student who came in last in his class?”

The answer is “Doctor.” It’s meant to be funny because it makes us realize, with consternation, that our own doctor may in fact be that low achiever and we would never know it. But on reflection, I think there is a more positive message in there somewhere. Regardless of his exam scores, that person is now a doctor with a vital responsibility to his patients; his every working day is the real test and a new invitation to pass and excel. His exam grade will not stay with him forever, but his day-to-day effort creates the pattern of his professional life.






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