Tweet #PlutoMehraKiKasamShareThis

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Scoring 94: Scoring Pressure or Outcome Bias?

Precisely a fortnight ago, the HSC board examinations (at least for me) concluded. It was an exhausting attempt, not because the syllabus was anything close to difficult, but because I faced a dilemma.

On one hand, was an extremely uninspiring curriculum- standardized and watered down to the extent of being nothing close to inspiring. The textbooks are printed in a haywire manner, the material is mediocre, and the concepts are explained in an extremely unpardonable, colloquial manner. On the other hand though, here I was, (to put it humbly but in a straightforward way) a perfectionist with a high need to achieve the best possible performance, and too an extent, a decent result…to put it accurately, a result somewhere close to, possibly more than the standards I had set up for myself (having been a consistent 90+ scorer).

This dilemma comes closest to the following analogy: Mom asks me to dust a cabinet on a day, when I am particularly moody. Although I don’t want to do it in the first place, I shall take every possible effort to wipe every speck out of the cabinet (note how she asked me to “dust” and I, almost instinctively and automatically, turned it to“wiped”! ;)

This dilemma went through several stages.

First, I almost completely lost (or convinced myself so) that I do not want to perform well, that I lack the drive to score or perform well. What is the significance of doing something exceptionally well when you don’t completely enjoy it? This ‘drive’ or ‘adrenaline’ that often empowered me before exams to gear up for an awesome performance was missing, probably. I don’t want to perform well. I would tell myself.

This first stage also had me deliberating at the same time that I ‘have’ to perform well.  

As the exams drew nearer, the second stage came in, and this was probably the most important one, the core of this article. I realised that I was not (or convinced myself so) well-prepared. Some introspection revealed that I had studied hard no doubt, but I was not as well-prepared as I was during my tenth board exams. I am a strong advocate of being completely relaxed and completely prepared before any exam…I had been so for the tenth boards at least. On none of those tenth board exam days had I studied on the last day morning or stayed up late in the night, or woken up early to study. In fact, three days before the boards commenced, I shot for a video on our channel and did the same in the middle of two papers, on one occasion. I made that (relaxed but prepared attitude) an idle for giving exams.

I was, in this stage, making a direct comparison between my tenth and twelfth board exam preparation. On hindsight, I also understand I was making the comparison based on this mental argument:

Since I prepared in so-and-so manner for the tenth, hence I scored well.

If I am to score well in the twelfth, I must mimic the exact same pattern in which I prepared for tenth.

I don’t know how many others felt the same while giving the boards but I did, and here is my analysis of the two stages I went through:

The two stages are absolutely linked and the same; basically, comparing my preparation for 10th, and expecting (making it a compulsion) for myself to repeat the same preparation for 12th. This, as I read a day ago, in Daniel Kahneman’s "Thinking-Fast and Slow", is the outcome bias- the belief that if an outcome that occured in the past is favorable, the process (and all associated factors) too was a good or efficient one.

This is a flawed belief, which was causing me misery then, and I understand only now. The fact that a good outcome (93.6%!) came following a process (relaxed and fun preparation), does not necessarily mean it was solely a result of that process. This irrational conclusion was giving me undue anxiety, and I would, on an occasion too many, expect my performance to be similar, because I wanted a similar performance and result.

Also, part of the cause of the misery was the compulsion I had (kind of) put on myself to perform competently under any, every and all condition/s. Not just on the result, mainly on the performance (the obsession to know the answer to every question that shows up). I was, as Albert Ellis would call it MUSTurbating. Expecting myself to absolutely be competent (I must do well), if I am to consider myself worth any good.

Several what ifs- did relieve me a great deal of anxiety. What if I don’t know the answer to a question? What if I did not do well on a paper? What if I did not top? What if I was not prepared as well as I used to be in the past for other papers? 

Answer: Maybe, it would disappoint me, but I could live with it. I am definitely not leveraging my entire self on one parameter. And that, brings me to the third, rather cliche phase I went through…Anxiety.

But anxiety that was tough to spell. It is difficult to describe what exactly I was feeling, a mix of a lot many emotions combined…performance anxiety, expectations from others, (lot was an exaggeration, I guess these were the only feelings!) Here, a concept I had heard during an online course, on public speaking would have come in handy (I applied it, albeit a little late). This is a brief explanation of this concept: anxiety and excitement- are nothing but attributions, that is causes we give to any thing or situation. And the bodily changes like a racing heart or breath rate, sweating, nervousness in the limbs are not necessarily signs of either anxiety or excitement, but associated to both. Why? Because when we feel these bodily changes, we assign a cause to them. We either tell ourselves that it is anxiety or excitement depending on the factors present in the situation at hand…and that is what we believe. So I did convince myself that the beating heart and paced-up breathing, nervousness in the limbs represented my body readying itself for the paper; pumped up, not nervous! And the sweating, of course, to the Mumbai heat.

Nevertheless, there was one predominant emotion troubling me and those were my own expectations from myself. If I were comparing myself to a friend, my rational side would anyways say, “Who anyways is he/she?” If I were laying my standards set up by anyone else, teachers, my college, what people, friends, in general expected from me, it would be easy for me to say, “Who are they anyway?

But this was me I was pitted against. I wasn't able to ask myself this question…not until I sat for the first paper in the examination hall and the invigilator told me plainly, “Please leave your ID card outside.” 

But I don’t have a bag.” 

Leave it on my table then.” I did. 

Couple of moments later, she looked at me, and asked, “Do you have your phone with you, if it is not in a bag?” 

No, I haven't it.

The invigilator doubted if I was going to break a rule. Me? Break a rule? How's it possible?

When you make a mental image of yourself, and most others knowing you are aware of it, you almost take it for granted. You assume a stranger, an invigilator, who is anyways doing her job, and who has no inkling who you are, will know you have never cheated since grade one! As this insight began entering my mind, the question paper also came onto my hands. The first passage read as follows, so much in similarity to my newly-found insight, almost welling up tears in eyes that have never watered in public before:

Prominent among the urges that inspire and drive a person in life, is the urge to be a somebody. It is quite human, especially in the early stages of life, to want to do something to win laurels and admiration of all around. There''s a pitfall though a" the very process of becoming a somebody may subtly reduce you to a nobody.

That gave me the courage to ask myself, Who am I anyways? Who knows that I ever scored a 93.6%? who knows I have a knack of relaxed perfectionist preparation? The invigilator doesn't know me, neither does the examiner, I am a nobody when I face them or when my paper falls in their hands. The examiner expects from me an average performance (like the invigilator expected an average teenage guy to bring along his phone in the center)? I am sure to give him/her far more than an average? Then what am I miserable about?

With that surging spirit and insight, I began writing the paper, and amazingly enjoyed the experience of all of those 18 hours, of writing those 6 papers.

I have been on stage so I know…Preparation is one thing, results are another, anxiety and expectations are involved in both and they are a healthy mix there. The only place you must not let them in is Performance. When you are on the stage, the space is yours…Hey Now! You’re a rockstar, get your game on, go play! “(which by the way was my motivational prelude to every exam)

You have gone through exams at least once, and over at at least two of these feelings if not more. Which of these and how did you deal with it? Comment below. 

 -Shahen Pardiwala

Google+ Badge