Sunday, 20 November 2011


What follows is possibly the cheesiest assembly ever delivered.  As someone who's been teaching for a decade and is a big a fan of an extended metaphor (and who knows how much kids love to see pictures of their teachers looking crap) I thought my students might enjoy this.  It was presented to 250 year 11s - these are kids aged 15-16 who are a couple of months into their last year of compulsory education and facing pretty important exams next summer...

You guys are constantly being told how important this year is, and I suspect you often wonder how we can possibly understand what you're going through, bearing in mind how long it is since we were your age.  Well, two years ago I visited Tanzania and while I was there my friend and I decided that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro seemed like a good idea.  It's the highest mountain in Africa and the highest non-technical climb in the world.  The route we decided to take involves a week long trek of 100km, reaching the summit at 5895m, where each lungful contains only 50% of the oxygen of a lungful of air at sea level.  The training I had to do in order to successfully complete this challenge is not unlike the preparation you have to do for your GCSEs.

In preparation for a French speaking exam, you have to speak a lot of French.  In preparation for a Maths exam, you have to practise sums.  Well guess what, in my preparation for a really long walk, I had to walk a lot.

Walking in general is fine, but sometimes, preparation has to be specific.  Kilimanjaro has a snow-capped peak, so it was important to take the opportunity to walk in the snow.  Likewise, you should make your revision mimic exam conditions as much as possible.

Actually, only a small part of Kilimanjaro is snowy, so I had to think about the other parts of the challenge.  Kilimanjaro's in Africa so complete preparation also involved walking in Africa.  In the same way, you need to ensure that your exam preparation covers every element of the exam.

Do much more preparation than you think you need.

Rest and reward are important too!

It's important to know yourself.  I know that if I only have a long term goal I keep putting off preparation.  I responded to this self-knowledge by signing up for the Lincoln 10k in March - forcing me to get fit earlier than I otherwise would have.  Studies show that ongoing revision is more successful than intensive last-minute revision, so start early!  I tore two muscles in my leg whilst preparing for this, but I still did it.  As you can see, it hurt.  If you're going to be thoroughly prepared for something, you need to be OK with not looking cool!

If you're confident in your preparation, you should feel pretty cheery as you start your final challenge.

The first few papers should feel beautiful because you were so well prepared.

Don't forget to eat!

When you're on the exam treadmill it's easy to only see the negatives - like the fact that for a week up a mountain your only 'luxury' is a semi-closed shed with a hole in the floor - take a moment to find a way to find it beautiful. 

It often feels as though the end isn't getting any closer.  Deal with it.

Exam season is boring and monotonous.  Deal with it.

You're still not going to look cool.  Deal with it.

This was the view from our tent one night; it's a wall we knew we'd have to face in the morning.  Sometimes, you'll go to bed with a seemingly impossible task facing you when you wake up.

Ignore the big picture and focus on the small part that you actually need to conquer.

Even after many days, the end may seem no closer.  Deal with it.

The closer it gets to the end, the more rubbish it is.

The most painful bit is often the most worthwhile.

Look behind you every now and again in order to allow yourself to feel smug that your wonderful preparation is leaving people trailing in your wake.

Even the toughest situations can throw up unexpected moments of magic.

Even when it's all done, you still won't look cool.  Deal with it.

It might hurt a little bit.

Don't fail to appreciate your support network.  They won't expect any of the glory but you know you couldn't do it without them.  Realise this and say thank you.

It's all just for a certificate.  Literally.  Be proud.

Having achieved something you thought you'd never manage, suddenly anything seems possible.  I roller skated a marathon a week after reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro.  You will have A levels and you will KNOW that you can do them.

I am never going to need to climb a mountain.  You will probably never need a lot of the things your are examined on next summer.  However, the ability to prepare yourself to face challenges will be useful in all areas of your future - make the most of it.  I'm off to Everest next year - what will you do next?

No comments:

Post a Comment