Success in exams and the tutor

Success in Exams and the Tutor… Recently I conducted a small trial. During the school exam I said to my 5th year medical students: “I know you all!” I really did know them.

They came every morning at 7:45 am for their lesson. We spent at least 1 ½ to 2 hours together every day. They were interested and successful young people. I said: “I know you and for this reason I know your exam results in advance… You all scored 100 out of 100. Now you can start the exam“. Would you believe it – they either knew the answer to every question, or they put forward an idea. It came to the point where I noticed that I was asking questions similar to those in an associate professorship exam and witnessed that they without hesitation and with great good-will displayed a wonderful performance. Then I put them through a straight-forward exam in which I used a somewhat threatening approach and questioned them with a superior attitude. The difference in the students’ performance was quite unbelievable. In the exams where students were intimidated they forget what they knew and even started doubting their own intelligence. At this point I want to tell you an anecdote from my own student years. We were in the anatomy exam. Our tutor, the late Orhan Kuran, was a strict man… He would classify us according to our success in the mid-term exams. The least successful ones could not pass no matter what they did. The strange thing was that even the very successful students had difficulties in passing his class. Anyhow, it was my turn in the exam. I was one of those with good mid-term results, so my chances of passing were high. I will never forget how one of our famous tutors, Professor Şevket, nick-named temporal Şevket, was holding a bone in his hand, waiting. He asked “What bone is this?” It was a lower jaw bone. I said: “a mandibula, Sir”. How many of these are there in the body, my son?” He had a stern tone of voice. A team of tutors including Prof Orhan were standing opposite me. I remember feeling like a pitiful little bug. I wondered if this was a trick-question. Or could a human being have two lower jaws?… and so on. Seeing me deep in thought, Prof Şevket said: “My son, why don’t you just say ‘one’?”. I took a deep breath of relief. The answer was as I had thought! Without asking any further questions they gave me an ‘average’ as a score and the exam ended. Yet throughout the year we had spent so much effort preparing for that exam! All of us students were in a position to answer any answer. But who were we to ‘know everything’?! We always say that our nation has problems with perception; in fact some go as far as to say we have low intelligence level. This trial will tell them something. In the meantime, a small note: The performance of our students during this trial was of a level that could compete with that of the students that came from Germany etc under Erasmus. This means that the issue is not about intelligence but about the trust invested, the love shown and the freedom granted…

Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan