High School 21/10: What’s best next?

As our Year 12 students commenced their HSC Examinations last week and many of our remaining students complete Yearly Examinations, I am reminded of what that means for many students. High stakes examinations, as they are often called, can evoke many different emotions, feelings and sometimes even physical responses in both our students and ourselves. Some of us have the focus and determination to prepare early to ensure we are at our best when the examinations arrive, whereas others spend a great deal of time worrying about what these examinations might bring and are not able to be at our best. For most of our students it is too late now to change the outcome of these exams, so in the words of author Matt Perman we ought to ask “What’s best next?”

From a practical standpoint we need to implement a few key ideas:

  1. Know your worth
  2. Reflect, review and rewrite
  3. What’s best next?

Many of us get so wrapped in our performance across many areas of life that we start attaching our identity to our outcomes. This is definitely possible for our students who start describing themselves as “high achieving, stupid, no good at essays, no good at Maths etc.” None of these identity statements are helpful or useful in achieving best outcomes. The best outcomes happen for all of us when we know our worth. A good friend of mine of says “God made you the way you are and God doesn’t make mistakes.” Our students need to remember that they can only be at their best when they work from the knowledge that they are already loved and valued as they are.

But know that we have the foundations right what practical steps can happen next to ensure ongoing improvement. Students need to “reflect, review and rewrite”. Firstly, they must REFLECT on their preparation. Had they been consistently completing homework before the exams, did they take any time to go over difficult concepts, did they ask the teacher to clarify concepts they still didn’t understand by the next lesson? Did they actually revise any of the content before the examinations, did they practise past paper questions to know what type of questions to expect? These questions ought to form part of the REFLECTion process so they are not doomed to repeating the same errors in the future as they never addressed them the first time.

Secondly student need to REVIEW their examination paper. Are they approaching the paper correctly, did they just complete the paper in order? For many students this is not the best approach, as they typically spend too much time on multiple choice questions. Were there topics they didn’t understand and need to go back and REVIEW? Were there questions where they knew the content, but weren’t able to communicate that effectively to the marker? When staff provide exemplar responses or suggested solutions is your student REVIEWing these?

Finally we need to ask “What’s best next?”. Reflection and review only have as much value as the implementation and action that follows them. This question has value in multiple ways. It should motivate us to act in order to improve, to take action out of our reflection and review. But Matt Perman adds weight to this question by reminding us:

Instead, the things we do everyday take on even greater significance because they are avenues through which we serve God and others. In fact, the gospel teaches us that the good of others is to be the main motive in all that we do and the chief criteria by which we determine “what’s best next.”

Matt Perman