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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Advice for students now that school exams are looming 

Give me my ample girth, grizzled features and bald head any day if it means avoiding what many of the region’s innocent young lambs will face next week

As a journalist (and former security guard) I have faced my fair share of stressful situations – but nothing comes close to the white-knuckle terror of sitting down to your first exam. EPA
As a journalist (and former security guard) I have faced my fair share of stressful situations – but nothing comes close to the white-knuckle terror of sitting down to your first exam. EPA

As I get older I find myself pining for those carefree school days. For me that time was devoid of the intrusive technology of today and weekends were long, blissful affairs filled with football, the odd Nintendo session and trips to the shops to spend what little savings I had on the latest chocolates and lollies.

That said, I wouldn’t want to be a teenager this week. Give me my ample girth, grizzled features and bald head any day if it means avoiding what many of the region’s innocent young lambs will face next week.

I am talking about end of semester exams, of course. As a journalist (and former security guard) I have faced my fair share of stressful situations – I have guarded a factory experiencing demonstrations from jilted employees; explained to immigration officers at LAX that my double-moniker is in fact the real deal; and have endured severe stage-fright interviewing soul singer Sade. But nothing comes close to the white-knuckle terror of sitting down to your first exam.

The fact that I still find excuses not to join my colleagues at pub quiz night probably explains that I am yet to recover from the school exam experience.

A lot of this comes down to the expectations that are pinned to the final marks received. I am not talking only of fulfilling the hopes your parents have for you, but also the bragging rights that come with a good grade.

I have seen even the most humble of parents gleefully swan around the office giving away sweets because their kid scored some amazing grade. Needless to say, I wasn’t one of those kids and the fact that my parents had to adjust their expectations still haunts me occasionally.

During our first stint living in Abu Dhabi back in the 1980s, the school system was more ruthless than it is now, because students had the double whammy of exams and the end-of-year class ranking.

We were living in the same Airport Road building as my cousin, so naturally a low-level rivalry ensued. It was never a fair fight, though: my younger cousin was vastly superior in matters academic and would often come top of his class – I was in the bottom third. The only victory I scored, if you can call it that, was when I finished 10th in Grade 3, while my cousin finished fourth. His parents were livid, while mine were surprised and bought me a pedal car.

I have now come to appreciate those stressful times because nothing brings a family together the way exams do. Pupils become little princes at home with their parents often at their beck and call, all to be able to provide them with a comfortable place to rack their brains.

I recall my father coming home early from work and sitting with me in the study room for three hours, giving me mock exams on various subjects, while my mum supplied us with a steady stream of snacks to keep the study fires burning.

As a kid I dreaded those sessions, but today these memories bring a lump to my throat because my father is no longer with us.

And while my parents perhaps never got those amazing marks they wished for from me, I can confidently say they definitely provided the tools I needed to find the career success they hoped I’d achieve.

Our chatty, free-wheeling household engendered in me a love of debate. My father’s attention to detail and love for the written word helped me develop an interest in creative pursuits, while watching my mother struggle and eventually succeed as a single parent, going on to become a successful businesswoman, was all the motivation I needed to stay the course and continue to apply for journalism jobs after more than 120 failed applications.

Then of course there are the lessons that life teaches us; one of these is that there will be more exams. While we are breathing we will always be tested, in good ways and bad. So for all the students sitting down in that quiet exam hall this week, I wish you well, but remember there are more curveballs coming.

As for the parents, if your child gets those great marks, then congratulations. But if they don’t, I wouldn’t worry ... more often than not, if the experience is treated as an investment it will soon yield fruit.

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Read more of Saeed's thoughts:

A chance encounter with an ageing tycoon provides useful life lessons

How storytelling reveals who we are and creates bonds between us

The three golden rules when eating an iftar buffet

Finding kindness across the UAE during Ramadan

How speaking in Arabic will add colour to my vocabulary this Ramadan

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