What's in a Story?
So that's . . . Serendipity!
Accidents do Happen . . .
Every business has a story. Our story at PERFORM in EXAMS | PERFORM.ie has all the hallmarks of an accident. For the business is growing from a simple request for help, a request that picked up on expertise and experience and initiated a journey. That accident happened more than twenty – yes, 20 – years ago. Two questions you might ask: What was the accident? And what’s been taking so long?
A Son, His Parents, and A Set of Final College Exams
One Spring morning, the son of a close friend announced to his parents that he was not going to take his final degree exams, after four years at college. He said the exams looming in a few months time were stressing him out and that he could not take the pressure any more. His struggle with the decision, he said, had only added to the stress and he needed to get out of that loop. Sorry, Mom and Dad, no way am I taking those exams!
And so the call came to the family friend with a background in education (and, as it happened, exams) and a request for help figuring out what to do. An easy call to take, for the two families were close and the son was well-known to and liked by the family friend taking the call.
If the call for help was a surprise, the situation described was less so, since similar concerns had already been part of earlier conversations. That said, there was a real challenge ahead.
A coffee soon after with Johnny – not his real name, of course – confirmed Johnny’s position and intention. Too much stress around and with exams. Repeating earlier exam stresses. Anxiety undermining preparation. Exam walkouts. Under-performance. Failures. Muddling through, at best. No stomach for more of the same. End of story, Johnny.
With twenty plus years mixed between educational psychology, educational research, publications on assessment and exams, and ‘consulting’ with problems in all sorts of environments – primarily business then – Johnny’s challenges were not exactly new. But they were real challenges for Johnny and very real challenges for anyone looking to help Johnny navigate a way through his particular and long-standing challenges.
Making Progress . . .
Johnny did agree to meet over a coffee and, through that discussion, agreed – very reluctantly, nervously, doubting – to work a little on looking at how his situation could be addressed. At how he might be able to understand better the sources of his anxiety over exams and perhaps to be able to learn how, if not then but in the future, to manage better his situation.
Long story, short . . . Johnny managed to regroup, but with a lot of help. Every week. Every few days. Pretty much daily through the exams. In truth, Johnny found it tough. Providing the assist was even tougher!
Johnny did pass all his ten (10) final college exams, but over three exam sittings, starting with that Summer sitting that he had decided to miss. Six passes out of ten. No walkouts. Three passes out of four in the repeats. No walkouts. The tenth pass – in the second repeats – was the one paper Johnny could spoof on all day – for he was always a good spoofer – and that one was proving difficult. Why? Johnny could not easily get his head around working with questions he did not know – or believed he did not know – the answers to.
Johnny’s graduation was a joy, . . .
for him and for his parents.
And for the exhausted assist!
Down to Business . . .
There was never a thought of the various assists to Johnny being the basis for a business idea. In truth and over the succeeding years, Johnny was replaced many times by Marys, Joannas, Michaels, . . . It seems the story somehow got out and about!
Each little exam episode was simply an assist and what proved to be a very enjoyable and indeed productive set of assists. Exam understanding was proving valuable, really valuable in practical and meaningful ways. There was something good about being the gamekeeper turned poacher.
And one day the inevitable happened. Those awkward questions – What are you charging? What are you making? The answers proved to be, well, straightforward, if more awkward. Nothing! And nothing! No Big Deal really . . .
But a chance presence at a business conference changed everything.
The ‘penny drop’ moment was sitting listening to an Irish entrepreneur running a successful business in the Middle East . . . a real business preparing students for college admissions tests. Well, I never! The reaction resulted in a thoughtline.
That thoughtline was to take stock of the veritable industry already working away successfully and commercially to support students in second level schools to perform better in exams here in Ireland. There were then – several years ago – a lot of ‘grind’ schools and a lot of teachers offering ‘grinds’. The ‘market’ – in business terms – had been there since at least the late 1960s and had resulted in several successful companies and many happy part-time grinds teachers.
A Point of Difference Vs A Market Need . . .
But the assists with exams being given were not subject teaching or grinds. The focus was always on exam preparation and the psychology of performance on the run-in to and especially in exams – in the heat of the exam halls.
As well established as the need for support preparing for exams was in terms of subject support and grinds, it is less clear that there would be an appreciation for Exam COACHING and workshops focusing on developing Exam SKILLS. But that’s what has been the ‘need’ that was being met over twenty plus years. And typically with reliably good and sometimes great results. And results that lasted through following exam challenges at college and elsewhere. How do we know that? Feedback and observation, . . . and exam results. Real evidence there!
PERFORM in EXAMS | PERFORM.ie was Born . . .
PERFORM in EXAMS is still in its ‘formative’ years as a business. Yet we are addressing a real need in an innovative and effective way. It is a business with a long story and a somewhat shorter history as a business.
PERFORM in EXAMS is the result of more than twenty years of supporting students to do their best in exams. In exams at second level – Leaving Cert and Junior Cert. In exams at third level – College exams through to finals. In exams at professional institutes – accounting, law.
PERFORM in EXAMS builds on work stretching back more than thirty five years, including research and programme evaluation in education and including numerous studies on assessment and exams, important studies of college admissions procedures and policy options (e.g., the SAT for use in Ireland), and many publications and reports to the Department of Education.
In addition to Exam COACHING and Exam SKILLS training, PERFORM has been invovled in supporting exam appeals, all the way to High Court challenges to exam results. Publications are to be found in the Irish Journal of Education, in Oideas (periodical of the Department of Education), and in the Irish Times. Presentations and keynote addresses have been made to many conferences, including the Psychological Society of Ireland, The Educational Studies Association of Ireland, and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.
A Few Words of Appreciation . . .
Thank you, Johnny! Thank you to Johnny’s parents!
Thank you to the Marys, Joannas, and Michaels doing their Leaving Cert, their Junior Cert, their college exams, their accounting exams, and their law exams – thankfully not all at the same time!
Thank you to all those students who have shaped our understanding of what it is to PERFORM in EXAMS. Those students who have challenged us to engage with their own exam challenges. Those students whose challenges have laid the foundation for PERFORM in EXAMS to work well and still to support students to do their very best in their exams.
Our journey – at PERFORM in EXAMS – to innovate and support students to do their very best in their exams continues . . .