Monday, May 8, 2023
You’ve got love this time of year in Massachusetts. Last Thursday, it was around 46 degrees and rainy, and on Saturday, I got sunburnt sitting at my daughter’s college graduation. On Sunday morning, I waited outside for an hour on line to get breakfast at a new bakery that opened in my neighborhood that appears to be “insta famous.” I got on line at around 7:55 a.m. (they open at 8) and it had already stretched around the corner from the storefront. It was a great vantage point for seeing everyone walking by (and their truly adorable dogs) as well as the folks on line. As I waited, here is what I saw: some folks were wearing winter coats or down vests, some were wearing quarter-zip fleeces (yes, it is New England), some were wearing workout gear, some wore shorts, some wore jeans, and some were wearing pajamas. A look down showed me Uggs, sneakers, flip-flops, crocs, and sandals. And yes, someone wearing a winter coat was also wearing shorts and Uggs. Again, it is an insta-worthy kind of place. But it reminded me that there is no objective way to “feel” the weather: how someone feels in terms of comfort and temperature is almost entirely subjective.
In this same way, no student feels the same during exams. A student who has done very well all semester--has outlined, studied, and done practice questions--may be more nervous than I think they should be-and the truth is, my dismissal of their exam anxiety is not going to help. At this point in the semester, I am also weary and my patience (which was never endless) seems to be experiencing some supply chain issues. So, as much as I would like to just tell the student, “you are fine,” I need to hold back my exhausted sighs and listen. I can gently counter with the evidence I have that they will, indeed, be okay. But my secret is that I always leave students with a task. It is something small-something they will likely excel at- and it is something to do rather than sit and stew in the feelings of being inadequately prepared for the exam. Am I giving them busy work to distract them from a self-destructive mindset? Yes, but I am also having them perform a task that will help them do better on the exam. Sometimes it is a set of multiple choice questions, sometimes it is making a Quizlet or other flashcards, sometimes it is going back and streamlining their outlines to just the headers (in a separate document-no deletions!) and use that to test themselves (added bonus: they can see that the number of possible issues on the exam is fewer than it seems). I have recommended making flow charts and/or tables.
Yet, I am careful. I always tell students that a little bit of exam anxiety is not a terrible thing, but anxiety that feels relentless or leads to mental paralysis is something that requires outside help. If I am really concerned, I will get our more specialized team to check-in with a student (Dean of Students, counselling center etc.). I am very cautious when I am walking in the territory of mental health.
The bottom line is that high-stakes summative assessments cause universal stress. There is no way around that-and for students who are seeing me because they have already hit some academic stumbling blocks, exams are even more fraught. And for students who have had nothing but academic success, the imposter syndrome can be overwhelming (“what if I was just lucky for the first exams?”). I should not be judging how students wear their exam nerves just because of the way I am looking at their forecast. How I feel about their likelihood of success carries some weight for sure, but it is not enough.
For the record, I was wearing a hoodie, shorts, and sandals; and my pistachio croissant was totally worth the wait.
*Please also remember to sign up for AASE Conference!*
Here is a final notification from our amazing host school colleagues:
Register here: https://associationofacademicsupporteducators.org/events/2023-10th-annual-aase-conference/ (Make sure you're logged in for member pricing.)
Our travel and lodging advice is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TwitZa9gnEPLRTcOuqMmZhQIiWTZic7owCcK5yXpJ78/edit?usp=sharing
-Your colleagues at Santa Clara Law