Exams: Students To Be Told Questions In Advance.


This news article caught my attention yesterday.

Before you read any further, notice your own reaction to the headline.

I have shown this headline to a number of people over the last 24 hours and the reaction has been very consistent. The reaction is to have a point of view about it … and in many cases, a rather strong point of view:

“That’s just crazy”

“A further example of dumbing down in society today”

“This makes me so angry”

“That’s not fair – I had to study so hard”

“That’s a very good idea, because of the COVID-19 disruption”

The point of this article is not to say whether this is a good idea or a bad idea, but rather to illustrate how automatic it is for us as human beings to rush to judgement and to live at the level of content, rather than context.

That’s not to say that “rushing to judgement” in itself is a good or a bad thing. The “good” news is that it allows you to speed through life. However, the “bad” news is that it becomes an automatic, unseen habit, that begins to limit the possibilities that you see for future action or response.

So, what to do?

The first step is to become aware of your propensity to do it. In a lot of my coaching, my clients don’t even notice their habit of rushing to judgement, or, even if they do, they then immediately justify it with their favourite story:

“I don’t (usually) do that” (aka “Denial”)

“If you worked here/had my boss/spouse/life etc, then you’d do this too” (aka “It’s what any normal person would do in this situation”)

“That’s just who I am” (aka “The Genetic Defense”)

Once we get passed these, I then have my client pay attention to the accompanying emotion and physical sensation that comes along with the judgement. This is all part of learning to pause and notice in the moment, rather than charge forward, armed with your immediate judgment (and accompanying emotion `and physical sensation) in hand.

More than this, once you move forward like this, consciously or not, you start to bring to mind evidence from your past that supports your judgement. Additionally, you start to look out for further examples in your present experience and are now on the look out for more supporting evidence in your future.

“Suddenly, your past becomes a very good indicator of your future.”

This is the default modus operandi for human beings and at one level it is very useful because it allows us to think we are right, in control and able to make sense of the world, now and in the future. This generates a sense of predictability and safety.

On another level however, this way of operating keeps us stuck with our current mindset, points of view and beliefs.

“Transformation” requires you to work at the level of context (thinking about my thinking, in this example) instead of at the level of content (simply thinking).”

Working at this level can be more challenging because human beings generally like to see their current mindset and beliefs as correct and can easily feel threatened when asked to examine them.

Your opinion about whether students should be told the questions before they go into the exam is content. Most people habitually interact at this level – discussing or even arguing about their point of view and their life becomes largely about coming to the “correct” answer and/or persuading other people to agree with them.

This particular example caught my attention because I personally noticed that I had a strong immediate response, which was essentially: “Well, that’s just crazy”! This was combined with an emotional response of frustration and envy, no doubt borne out of my own history of frantically cramming for exams in the past.

Once I noticed this, and paid attention to it, a space opened up. A space that allowed for new possibilities and re-appraisal. In particular, it occurred to me that this idea has the power to totally re-invent education: Rather than test students on their ability to remember information that is now freely available at the touch of a screen, maybe it makes more sense to test them on their ability to examine or apply that information in some way.

“In order for there to be a possibility of new content (eg a new education system, in this example), a new context is required.”

For as long as my historical and existing mindset remains in place, unnoticed and unexamined, it forms a part of my context and that context only allows for certain content.

My beliefs, knowledge and history become invisible over time and set the frame for what is available in my future. This is why it is generally very difficult for experts in a particular field to come up with ideas to transform that field and why a human being finds it very difficult to transform themselves.

Clients come to The Works Partnership and The Coach Partnership when they want to transform (personally, professionally or organisationally) their results and/or learn how to support other people to do so.

We challenge and support clients to examine their current assumptions, mindsets, beliefs and attitudes, not because they are wrong, or bad in any way, but because these are the things that are driving their current reality and shaping their view of what’s possible in the future. Until clients are able to really do this, there is little point in giving advice or supplying new ideas, however good they might be, because their existing context does not provide the space for this new content to exist.

This is a very different way of working, but one that ultimately offers the possibility of genuine transformation.

Marcus Marsden
Managing Partner, The Works Partnership & The Coach Partnership

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