When I was doing my PhD in IT, I was also doing a bachelor’s degree in Business and Management. Because the bachelor’s degree was in the UK, it was super expensive. Due to the rigours of the PhD, I didn’t have enough time to study for the lower degree. Most of my study materials were left untouched.
When the exams came, I couldn’t prepare. I didn’t even have enough time to fully study the instructions for the assignments. So I failed. I was given another opportunity to re-sit the courses I failed. But because I didn’t change anything about my study habits, I failed again and was told that I couldn’t continue.
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Which means I flunked out. Both money and time gone!
Do I regret failing? Yes. Since I’m employed now, do I tell myself that I don’t need the degree and “it is okay that you failed?” Absolutely no!
Because it is simply not true. Any day I recall that adventure, I feel a pang of pain. Even though I take consolation in the fact that at the same time, I was doing another BSc in computing and a difficult diploma in media law.
Let me be clear, it is not okay to fail exams. Those with the best grades get scholarships and then graduate to better jobs.
So it is not okay in school and not okay in your career. Carl Newport, the author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” said that the first thing recruiters look for in a university graduate is the grade they graduated with and then whether they attended a prestigious school.
So don’t lie to children. Even in the real world, you have to do exams and if you fail, you would discover how brutal the world can be.
Let me give you an example. Say you want to be a software engineer for a FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Google). They wouldn’t simply give you the job because of a fancy CV. No. They would subject you to a series of tests to evaluate your ability to do the job. Whether you are employed would largely depend on your performance on the tests. If you failed, they wouldn’t say it is okay. Instead, you would be told “sorry, you can’t work here.”
If you want to be a data scientist, they would give you practical problems to solve in SQL and other technologies.
So what should you tell children about examinations?
It depends on whether it is before or after the examination. If it is before, tell them to work hard, prepare well and do their best. To do that, read one of the many articles I’ve written on the best way to prepare for exams. Here is one: “To Prepare For Exams, Don’t Read!” It is at this point that you may also promise a reward if they do well.
If the child failed the exam despite their best efforts, still, don’t tell them it’s okay. Instead, tell them to do better next time. And teach the children how to do better by sitting together and analysing the result with them to find areas of weaknesses and strengths.
This reminds me of the story Farooq Kperogi told of his father. When Farooq cried because he got less than the result expected, his father found him and told him to always do his best. And that gave Farooq the encouragement he needed to top every class ever since.
Why am I writing this? I just read a piece purported to be from a principal in Singapore which advised parents to tell their children who have failed exams that it is okay. “But, please do remember,” it asserts, “amongst the students who sat for the exams there ls an _architect, artist, Scholar,_ who doesn’t need to understand Math… “
An architect doesn’t need math?
Needless to say, I don’t think the article was written by a principal. And I don’t think it’s from Singapore.
Of course, I agree with the argument that an examination is not everything. Very few things in life are. So one should not be extreme about it. However, examinations are a part of life. Therefore, we should teach children that whenever they choose to participate in anything, they should do their best. Don’t forget our living, our participation in this world is a big test by God.