I went through all my high school years afraid of the final exam. The pressure in the academic system was much. The idea of four years of study summarized in one single exam scared me. What if I fell sick? What if they only focused on the areas I was not comfortable with? What if I panicked and failed to think straight? And every year marked yet another increase in the workload which we would be expected to remember. Some concepts became easier by the years, but most became more complex. They fed us with something new every single day of the academic term; be it composite logarithms or a strange chemical reaction or biological process. It petrified me when a new idea made me forget a previous one. It frightened me even more that the subjects were all independent in content, each demanding a unique approach.
In my third term of the final year, I was scared that I was not prepared for the battle. We called it a battle because we had to prove ourselves. If you did not pass this exam, the system would automatically lock you out. It felt like a competition for survival where only the brightest would make it. But that was not the case. The system was not necessarily for the bright, it was for the lucky. But the harder people worked, the luckier they became. And so I worked hard- for luck. We did not give ourselves room for failure. My goal was not to get a free pass to the University, I only wanted to excel. I was too scared of failing, I was scared of what people would say, and afraid that if I failed, my life would henceforth be mediocre; and that it would forever haunt me that I could have done better if I had tried harder.
We went through a phase of momentary self doubt.When your memory suddenly starts failing you, you are bound to doubt your abilities. When the mock results come and your performance is below your personal targeted goal, you are bound to freak out. When you look at the volumes of books right in front of you and feel that you cannot handle them, you definitely start resigning to fate.
The teachers must have known how much the thought of failing stigmatized us. They took time to prepare us psychologically. They told us of girls who had made it big in life, despite poor performance in the final exam. They introduced us to bridging courses and the possibility of eventually getting University education through these courses. They told us about entrepreneurship and emphasized the need to be broad minded in our approach to life. They talked of the opportunity to explore other talents besides academics. I found the talk on talents a little hypocritical. We had gone through four years of academic pressure and minimal talent pressure. No one had really cared to invest in our talents… but in case the academic way went heiwaya on us, we could take the talent route! Wasn’t talent supposed to be most grown in our teenage years? Wasn’t talent more productive than concepts that we would barely apply in our professional life?
We were well prepared to deal with failure, but no one taught us how to deal with success. No one took the time to let us know what next after excellent performance. (Which comes as a surprise to most of us). Usually, it’s an answered prayer. The exams are never easy and you can only hope that the Lord shines his favor on you. It is this lack of preparation to deal with success that has seen some of the top performers drastically change and experience academic reluctance when they get to institutions of higher learning. It is only normal to want to ride on yesterday’s glory and cling on to the moment of success a little too long. We like to use our past achievements to prove to people just how smart we are. We expect to have the papers do the talking for us for as long as we live…
And because results were released just the other day, I caught myself scribbling this. For outstanding results, it’s a job well done: congratulations. But that is just it. It will make it easier for you to navigate your way out here, but there still lies a long journey ahead. The very same effort you put to get there, is the very same effort that replicates in life. The only difference is that you may not have exams with life, it is our choices that show how smart we truly are, far more than our abilities. Welcome to yet another new beginning, to another phase and to a new system of study.