It all starts the days and nights before.
But as the hours, minutes, seconds tick by, the anxiety levels are getting higher and higher.
You start to lose a lot of bodyweight in sweat as the moment of truth is coming closer.
It’s the worst time of your teenage years, the days you have been dreading for a whole year – school exams.
I remember sitting my O Grade and Higher exams back in the UK and it was during the Cold War when we genuinely thought the world could end at any second.
It certainly made us a little philosophical that the worst case scenario was that at least if we messed up the exam, it might not harm our future careers too much, if a big mushroom cloud appeared in the sky.
Okay not quite, but not even the prospect of Nuclear War was as scary as sitting in the school gymnasium with our peers with only a piece of paper and a pen to guide us to greatness.
We also had to hope that all our study and preparation would see us over the line if you can call hanging out with your friends, pretending to study counts.
We did as much as we could at that age, as any student knows motivating yourself to study is not easy.
We did well in class most of my friends and I, so we had a good chance.
It is no exaggeration to say that it was like walking into the guillotine in 18th century France not just the first time either, every time.
I think I sat seven in the first year.
Subjects in which you are strong are not so bad but when it came to physics, I was actually relieved that part of the exam was in multiple choice.
Preparation and study is great in theory but I remember sitting in one exam, and although I had studied really hard to write a discussion essay based on the arguments of whether boxing should be banned or not, I still to this day do not know why I didn’t follow through with my rehearsed argument, which would have got me a really high score on my exam as the question came up.
Looking back 25 years later, I can say that was the day my creative writing career began.
I could also say that I was a stubborn young man who hated to do what someone told him (my teacher), some things never change.
Instead of ‘Boxing: should it be banned’ essay, I wrote a fictional short story with a Macbeth (the Shakespearean play) theme with murder and mayhem involved but as it was my first effort at fiction, something I may master one day, it was absolutely horrendous, had no plot and only loosely fitted one of the categories that were available.
Life is for the learning I suppose and I was a bit of a late starter when it came to college/university but I got there in the end.
Now, one thing that I was never part of during my school days was cheating.
Maybe my group were admirable young chaps or were too scared to even contemplate it.
The quote from our teachers and parents which had been drilled into us from an early age was ‘you are just cheating yourself’, which is true.
Let’s say you pass with 90 per cent, maybe get an A-Level in Mathematics, which enables you to progress to a university degree in, say for instance, engineering or even start to learn your trade as electrician.
You are found out – your math isn’t good enough and you are destined to fail, so you have to change courses/jobs and a year or two is wasted.
However, if you had failed math at high school maybe you would have accepted and chosen an alternative subject closer to your abilities and actually enjoyed study.
That’s all mere speculation but it does happen.
If you cheat at the lower level, you have no chance of reaching the higher level.
When your cheat sheets become more high-tech, you may progress to the better college or university, but you will be found out eventually, maybe in your first job.
Better to accept your limitations early on and strive to be good at something you have a real talent for.
I read the other day an article which reported that fines of up to VND20 million will be imposed on any students found cheating in school exams and other behavior in school, including physical and mental abuse in Việt Nam.
However, children under 14 cannot be fined.
The authorities are quite rightly targeting those who bring in cheat sheets and banned devises into rooms where exams take place, and students performing exams on behalf of someone else, I don’t ever remember the latter from my study days that must be a new thing.
Exams you can see now as you are older are like a guide to your learning progress.
They are not there to trip you up or deny you the course you have always dreamed of.
They are a test to see how you are fixed at that particular time.
Maybe 12 months after a poor exam, you might get a really great score in the same exam.
It is no miracle.
You weren’t ready 12 months ago but now is your time to shine.
I was at a talk a few weeks back and the motivational speaker said that fear is not your enemy, fear is your friend. If you are scared to do something, maybe it is because you are not ready, so fear sits on your shoulder and tells you so.
When you are ready, he is gone from your shoulder.
Maybe when I was sitting my exams, that fear was telling me I wasn’t ready.
As I got older and a little more mature and wiser, exams became just part of life, part of your learning cycle to see how you are progressing.
They weren’t in the rigid, imposing school hall format, which does help you relax more.
If someone is considering cheating at a school exam, they should take a step back, learn to study as hard as they can and if they fail, so be it.
There will be a next time when you will be far more prepared and more focused and things might just go your way.
Just be yourself, no-one can ask any more of you than that.
By DEREK MILROY