Monday, January 12, 2004

Endless Exams

Endless Exams

I can understand the anxiety of my students when they keep asking me about the topics that will be covered in their final exam. No one likes exams. I never liked it when I was a student. Why should our knowledge on a subject be measured by how well we perform in the sterile environment of the examination hall during that nerve-wracking two or three hours?

It was worst for us during our time in the university--there were hardly any coursework or assignments which would contribute to our total marks: our entire year's performance was determined by that one examination at the end of every year. During the exam period, we alternated between feeling suicidal and fearing for our sanity.

But thinking back, those stressful experiences of our youth in facing examinations were good character-building exercises. Life in a way is filled with examinations: An important job interview, is like an exam; so is a presentation in front of a tough audience; or a difficult situation that requires our immediate action. We are judged by how we perform on that very instant and occassion.

It may not be fair to us, but life is like that. We are often not given a second chance. During those monumental moments of decision and action, we have to dive deep into our store of experience and knowledge and react instantly. We are not given time to deliberate, analyze, evade or counter-question.

Exams may not be a good test of one's knowledge of a subject, but it is a good test of one's character. Knowledge can be acquired by anyone who is willing to persevere, but strength of character stems from one's inner core: It is shaped by one's upbringing, one's life's experiences and one's religious beliefs. We build character by taking challenges head-on, by plunging ourselves deep into the drama of life. Sometimes we falter, sometimes we excel but we always emerge a better person. Our character is strenghtened in the process.

We might think we are finally free from exams when we graduated from university. Far from it. One inevitably finds that life is, but an endless series of examinations.

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