Years ago I taught high-school chemistry, trigonometry, physics and math. I knew students who were in their last year of school before going on to college or trade school or some other form of education to equip them for a productive and satisfying life.
I knew from my own experiences that stress and pressure would accompany each student for the rest of his life, and I wanted to do the best I could to help him succeed. Life has many moments that tax our abilities to the limit. As a teacher I wanted to be sure the students could meet each challenge.
When times of pressure and crisis come, we do not have the luxury of time to develop the skill and character we need to handle them at that time. We develop skills, knowledge and character over the years rather than in an instant.
The vital ingredient that helped me determine how the students were developing was the need from time to time to test their skills and knowledge. Tests tell the student where their knowledge may be weak. Tests boost the confidence of a student by showing that he really does understand the material. Tests show the instructor the weaknesses or strengths of students. Tests also reveal where an instructor may not have been clear enough.
Success under pressure
Tests become a vital tool in another area. Tests place the student under pressure. In the chemistry classes I taught, my students had to take a final exam prepared by the board of education. The test largely determined the students’ final grade and thus influenced their plans for their careers. Some students resented this type of test, and all the students I knew grew nervous when this test came around.
Susan was a good student—not brilliant, but a good student. She planned to go to college, but tests were a mountain for her. She had studied and I knew she could pass, but her nervousness and fear made her stay up for 48 hours with no sleep in the days leading up to the exam. On the last evening before the test she planned to stay up all night to study.
When a friend of hers told me her plan and I had seen how tired she looked, I phoned Susan and told her not to study at all but get a good night’s sleep. I knew a tired mind would not react well under pressure, and she likely would do worse, not better. She took my advice and aced her exam the next day. Her fear and the pressure she felt had lowered her confidence. Her performance would have been affected. She went on to college and a successful life.
Another student, Bill, was average. His study habits were not so good, and he, too, felt the great pressure of the coming chemistry test. Feeling the pressure, Bill did study, but not enough.
As I was taking the roll the morning of the exam, I noticed Bill was not there. Test time came, and I asked a friend if he knew where Bill was. The friend confided in me that Bill stayed home because he feared the test. I phoned Bill’s home and he answered. He was healthy and well, but the pressure on him was too great.
I bluntly told him to come down right then, even though he would be starting late. He did, and he passed the final exam. Years later at a class reunion Bill thanked me for that phone call. He had received his high-school diploma landed a good job in the oil industry. He needed that passing grade in chemistry.
There are many stories like those of Susan and Bill. There are also stories of students who confidently took the test and handled the pressure. All of these experiences are stepping stones and building blocks of life.
A different reaction to pressure
It is sad when we read of students who fail to learn the lesson and respond in a way that builds good character. Many of them struggle through life until they finally learn the lessons they should have learned earlier, or their life becomes a constant attempt of avoiding pressure and responsibility. That is surely not a route to a pleasant or enjoyable life.
Oxford is England’s most famous university. One of its top students, Roxanne, became president of the students’ union. She was intelligent and headed for a wonderful future. She had a busy and enjoyable life on campus.
But for her, too, the pressures of tests were great. Exam time came and she complained about a hurt hand. She was allowed to take the exam by typing into a personal computer in an adjoining room. She proceeded to cheat. She downloaded an essay she had previously written rather than write the required essay for this exam.
Cheating cost her dearly. Her reputation was damaged; she was expelled from university; and her future was badly marred in many aspects. She hurt her family and friends. Most of all, she hurt herself.
Pressure is a fact of life
Too often students are allowed to make excuses to lay studies aside and wallow happily in their lack of understanding. Parents sometimes support those excuses. Lack of preparation and study—lack of a proper work ethic—is the greatest cause of fear and trepidation for those facing test times.
Final exams mean pressure. That is part of their purpose. Students go on to become doctors, teachers, ship captains, firemen, policemen, farmers and the like. All will eventually be faced with difficult decisions.
When a doctor is faced with a difficult operation, he cannot excuse himself by saying he doesn’t feel ready for it. A fireman cannot say he feels under stress because he helped fight a fire yesterday so he should be able to skip this call. Students need to learn to handle pressure because they will be under pressure all their lives.
Running away or cheating is not the way to learn the lessons that lead to successful living. Proper preparation and having a willing attitude is the best approach. Exams help us learn to keep events in perspective while we sweat it out in an atmosphere in which decisions can bring success or failure.
Solid steps for success
Hard work, determined study, good habits of living and working are all ingredients for success as a student and later as an adult. Maybe you’ve heard students complain about homework, yet their study habits were clearly counterproductive. Some students have told me they study best with loud rock music on the radio, when parked in front of the television, when eating snacks and so on. At least their stories show great imagination.
Parents, teachers and other adults need to pay attention to helping young people. They are forming habits and mental attitudes that will help or harm them all their lives. Adults should be there to teach self-discipline, self-control and self-confidence. Such confidence is built upon a solid work ethic. Exams, after all, are to show what you know and reveal gaps in knowledge. Exams are not to be feared; they are to be used.
When considering the value of tests, we should consider that the greatest teacher of all is God the Father. He knows the value of testing far better that any human teacher. He knows we need to develop the character that pressure and self-control yield. He knows our lives will be filled with challenges, confrontations, decisions, stress and pressure. He wants us to be ready when those tests come.
The Scriptures tell us God tests us to see whether we love Him above all else (Deuteronomy 13:3 Deuteronomy 13:3You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proves you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
American King James Version×). He knows that if we truly love Him we will keep His commandments even under pressure and stress. Psalms 26:2 Psalms 26:2Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
American King James Version×shows David looked forward to being proved, or tested, by God. Why? Because he had prepared and was ready for tests. Notice what he said in verse 1: “I have walked in my integrity, I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip.” His confidence was built on learning, self-control, facing pressure and making sound decisions.
We will make errors and mistakes throughout life. The important thing is that we learn from them and not repeat our mistakes. Pressure is part of life, and exams and tests are vital tools in helping us prepare for the pressures of living. Another school year is here, another year of opportunity to develop your mind, to learn and put into practice the skills you have developed. Look forward to your learning years and remember that the broad and easy path that so many people choose is not the best way. God tells us to choose the narrow and more difficult way (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×). GN