Adults returning to study often share how, at school, after failing an exam dismally, they put a brave face on, pretended to be cool and not to care. But in the safety of our classes they often open up. Some still burn with the shame of failure and occasionally break down in tears reliving the humiliation of their school days and failing exams.
When students are fearful, they don’t learn or remember easily. They clamp up - not a good start when going into an exam.
There’s often be a collective wail of despair when exam time comes around: “But I don’t know how to study. I don’t know how to answer the questions. I hate exams. I can’t do it.”
In an effort to break the ice and have a laugh, I ask in all seriousness if anyone knows how to fail an exam. The looks say it all – “Oh crap, she’s lost the plot entirely, what do we do now?”
But of course they know how to fail an exam! They’ve done it often enough to be very familiar with the skills required. And the logic goes, if they know how to fail an exam, they also know the basics of how to pass – start by doing the opposite.
By working from the negative, it proves to each of them that they already know how to study! This lighthearted technique gets them to think about the problem differently, opens them up to another way of looking at the issue.
They already know what to do! Now all that remains is to choose which of the (opposite) actions they can incorporate into their lives with as little pain as possible.
This following is a somewhat tongue in cheek list, but still relevant with so many students working towards final year exams.
So, in a spirit of caring and sharing, during what is a very stressful time for many students, parents, caregivers and teachers, I present for your amusement:
How to fail an Exam:
- Attend as few classes as possible during the year
- Sit at the back of the classroom and draw dirty pictures
- Text friends during class
- Sigh, moan and daydream
- Disrupt the class as often as possible and get asked to leave
- Don’t study - in any way shape or form - ever
- Complain loud and often about how you’ll fail - negative self talk really helps
- Party the night before
- Don’t turn up
- Don’t read the question/s
- Don’t answer the question/s
- Answer the question with what you want to talk about rather than what is asked
- In essays, when asked to present a rough outline, ignore the instruction
- Write illegibly (deliberately)
- In multiple-choice questions, tick all the options. Or none. Or scribble some out and circle others so the marker has no idea which is the answer you hope they'll notice
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but covers most of the tried and true methods my students had become expert at.
What else can you add?
Note: Most of my students went on to successfully pass their exams. There was no magic involved. They were interested in the courses, determined, enthusiastic and motivated to prove they could succeed.