Doing well on exams without being a psychopat

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Mikka Luster who is a reasonable person and writes interesting stuff as far as I know also writes this:

because the testing we did said nothing about the fitness of our candidates and more about their psychopathic subtendencies, which supported remaining calm in such environments.

as well as this:

But while learning to deal with the stress of a psychological torture scenario like a classroom test might be beneficial to a career as a psychopathic suspect, it won't help and might actually be detrimental, to a future as a physician.

and this:

LEO around the world are now trained on how to defuse these situations by using words, gestures, facial expressions, and poses. The result are less tense citizen and much less open confrontations. Confrontations which are triggered due to a reduced frontal lobe involvement in spontaneous actions and utterances. University test masters do not receive this training, yet their behavior and the environment they create is at least as damaging to some people's future as a random traffic stop.

From this I take that Mikka Luster has had a totally different experience with exams than I've had.

I totally don't think that he wants to paint everyone who does well on exams as psychopats but for someone knowing nothing about the subject it would be easy to make a partial (and wrong) inference from that.

So I'm going to write down some other observations about the typical exam situation as experienced by someone who grew up in Norway. Hopefully I'll be able to convince everyone that it is OK to do well on exams, and maybe someone can an idea or two on how to improve their own exam experience:

First, a bit that might not be easy to do something about as a student:

Mikka writes:

University test masters do not receive this training, yet their behavior and the environment they create is at least as damaging to some people's future as a random traffic stop.

I remember exams as calm, those sitting there with us would go out of their way to help (as far as allowed, they would of course not answer any questions) and generally nice. They would sit silently reading a book or something, usually in front, sometimes also in the back of the exam room. Once anyone waved a hand they'd be there either you needed paper to write on, or to go out for some air or something.

The feeling of the exam: there is nothing else I ought to do right now

I'm easily distracted. Except when I'm working focused on something that matters. That might be a hard bug, an interesting game, playing with my kids – or doing an exam.

When I sit down on the exam I have blocked off the day. My phone is off and out of reach anyway, my family and friends know I'm busy and for a good reason. As mentioned above there used to be a few people around that would help with anything practical. In short, in my mind it was the perfect opportunity to perform as well as possible.

Actually, when I lived alone that feeling would set in a few days earlier. At that time I used to work/be involved extremely much outside of school.

The good feeling of the exam approaching

Prior to exams I would typically read for days straight, at least when I lived alone and studied for my engineering degree. The last day before the exam I'd say to myself – or rather just observe as I got tired – that “there's nothing more I can do now, either this works or it doesn't but from now on until the exam starts all I'll focus on is getting a good nights sleep, getting up, getting breakfast, show up on time and in the correct place.”

Getting a chance to be judged for what I can and not for how well my teacher liked me

My exam results was often better than the grades my teacher assigned me. This is a general problem. Recently national tests in Norway has shown that while a large subset of the population (about half of them, say no more as that is a topic for another time) does better on average on national standardized test, the other half of the population get better grades on assignments etc.

I belong to the subset of the population that does better on exams. Lessons can be really boring, and especially when I was younger I'd went my frustration. That doesn't help your grades. (And to be fair, some of what I said in class wasn't too insightful either: “Why do I have to learn English? I'm going to be a farmer!)

Finishing up

I think the posts were interesting and well written. I just didn't think people should link psychopathy with doing well on exams.

Our current exams are not ideal, but they at least around here they are are a compromise between getting things fair and equal for everyone while simultaneously keeping costs down.

Peoples perceptions about exams might differ for a lot of reasons and I guess some of it comes from early experiences with exams. I know a couple of people who had terrible dentists as kids and the stories that especially one of them can tell about how far they are willing to go to avoid dentists even after they are adults is pure madness in my opinion, but obviously real for them considering they can for days with pretty bad teeth before finally admitting that it wasn't a headache after all and they need to go to the dentist.

Finally: one more personal observation. Airports. Airports are way more scary to me than exams. On exams I can walk out, get my phone back and the only thing that happens is I don't pass the exam this time. Airports on the other hand where officers can stop you for no good reason after you have traveled for 24 hours straight, asking invasive questions seemingly to catch you for something you don't know what is, ransack your belongings for half an hour or more – even force you to unlock your personal devices – that is way more scary than exams – in my opinion.