When I was in 6th grade, I remember calling my dad in panic, final exams were coming up. I had no idea how to prepare, what to concentrate on, or what not to, all I knew was that they were very important and that I needed to pass them. I was then 12 years old, and I dedicated my whole days to studying for my finals, and passed them, with straight A’s, if I may add. Now, I am in college, and exams haven’t disappeared or gotten easier, they have gotten more complex and more specified to one subject.
Exams do test a student on the knowledge they have or lack, but what I learned is that they do much more than that.
Finals, different in every country
I was prepared for my ‘final’ exams in two different countries and one state, Bolivia, the Netherlands and Arkansas, and – wow – what a difference.
In Bolivia, it was more focused on where you wanted to go after high school, and which country. Once that was known, you were prepared for their admission exams, and the final exams of the school. I was not exactly in my graduate year there, so I wasn’t too worried, but they already started preparing you in the beginning of high school. Firstly, we had to practice how to stay quiet during exams (don’t ask me why, but we were probably not a quiet class), we had to sit down for two hours in a room, with a book or writing something, and with a teacher watching us. The first few times we failed, we got pretty distracted with each other, and had a few jokers in the class who couldn’t quite stay still, but afterwards we realized we would practice until we got it right, and remained silent for two hours straight. Then, we had to practice how to fill in the answers on the answer sheet, because if you marked one answer too many, or left one out, you got that question wrong. This resulted in blisters on our fingers. That step done, and our school ordered a few ‘old’ exams to practice. That’s when we realized we still had allot to learn. But hey, we were still freshmen, so we had time.
In Arkansas, I had very different subjects than I had in Bolivia, and there I was closer to graduating, 11th grade, if I remember correctly. Then, we were also practicing for exams, the Scholastic Aptitude Test also known as SAT’s. Everywhere I turned, I heard and saw SAT’s, books, papers, or teachers reminding me how difficult they were. There were various examples on the internet to practice. Also, every test given at school was in a format like the SAT’s. What was clear was that most people would not have enough time to finish the test, so you had to make sure not to stay on one question too long. However, most of all, what was made very clear, was that the exams were very difficult, and you had to practice, practice, and practice. A good tip? Your first instinct is almost always right (I still doubt this tip).
In the Netherlands, I was in my exam year. In the Netherlands you have no SAT’S, you have ‘eindexamens’ or final exams. You have one exam per subject, and 3 hours to make it. During class, the exams were mentioned, but no really practiced. Exams during the week for a subject were given, but there was no certainty that they were the same as the finals you would get. It all depended, mostly, on the teacher, how he or she taught and how hard the tests were during school. Other than that my exam year was maybe one the most nervous moments in my life, it was an amazing experience. Each student was going through the same, the radio talked about it, the newspapers were full of exam stories, and there were enough people you could contact for questions. I could never imagine calling a radio station in Arkansas or Bolivia asking them about a Physics question, but in the Netherlands, that was the most normal thing to do during that period, so I had the radio on all day to listen for tips or how they solved a problem.
I went to what is known as ‘Examen training’ (exam training). Other than helping me out on difficult problems and helping me pass, I learned how to study. This exam training consisted that you would go to a small classroom with maybe +/- 12 students, who needed exam training on the same subject, from 8 am to 6 pm, with breaks in between. Coffee and cookies were in abundance and the lunch was great, but what was even greater was the help everyone gave each other, some were better at reading the questions and thus see what was asked from the student, and other at solving them. We all became a small family in a short period of time, exchanging numbers, and calling each other for help on the weekends when we were studying alone. The teachers there were specialized in the subject and you also saw the subject from another angle, and because it was taught a different way, you learned new tricks and methods to solve problems.
I ended up passing my final exams, with one phone call from my mentor, my day couldn’t get any better, and I literally ran out of the house, and danced on my street, screaming: YES YES I PASSSEEDDDD!!! No complaints from neighbors, luckily.
Every period of exams before college, I thought were the hardest and they got me nervous every time. Now that I am in college, I have even more exams, testing me on more subjects, and more specific subjects. I still dedicate my days to studying through those periods, with lately giving myself a break to go to the gym before I go insane.
People say that exams are to test a student’s knowledge of the subject. That is true, but exams are more than that. During the exam periods at my school, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, students there become a family. We all take the initiative to meet up at school, usually around 12:00-13:00 pm getting the needed sleep, one gets some drinks and the other some snacks, and sit in a room with each other solving problems, reading, or studying graphs. Not all of us will be studying the same subject (because students from every year are mixed in the ‘study group’), but we can all help each other, everything from explaining how the calculator works, to a complicated graph of Physics is discussed. One student usually has music on, everything from lounge music to music in a language I don’t know. The needed Facebook log-ins happen and every once in a while a YouTube clip on the beamer. Around 10:00 pm everyone starts packing to go home, before they kick us out (I heard dogs searched the whole building at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam to check if anyone is left behind in the building?!). The next day, the whatsapp messages and pings are on full, everyone chatting with each other to see what time, where and what we were going to study.
Exams used to make me nervous, but with this amazing group to study with, who wouldn’t want to study?
Remember, if you’re nervous, you’re probably not well prepared.
Oh, and go with your instinct 😉