What to do once you’ve done your best and you’re waiting for exam results…

Cat and cube40 years ago the Rubik’s cube was invented and has been an iconic part of our culture ever since: the perfect gift for those moments when you have no better ideas and the recipient likes “maths”; a source of fun party themes; a brain tease way to pass an idle moment. On the radio* someone with Asperger’s syndrome explained the appeal to him. He pointed out that for every combination the cube presented, a set number of known moves would turn each of the six faces to one colour.  And it would work each and every time. Ask a person the same question 10 times, he commented, and there could be 10 different answers and he never understood why.

The exam results and consequences algorithm is similar to a Rubik’s cube. There are a finite number of exam outcomes from fail through to A* and, initially, a finite number of options as a consequence. Ultimately, of course, the scope for our futures is only bounded by our imaginations – but the worry of exams makes us forget this.

Once you know the results, the Rubiks moves are clear, but the waiting is without doubt stressful. During study leave and the exam schedule itself there is the whole business of revision: stocking the fridge, finding lost calculators, pens and kit. Reading through prompt cards and worrying how anyone is going to be able to read the hand-writing. Then the exams finish and waiting begins. There are days you forget, days people ask about them so you’re reminded, days you don’t care, days you check on-line just incase the results are early or the examiners have gone on strike, days spent doing trade-offs in your head with the gods of exam results.

Happily there are several proven strategies to overcome stress. These include the following:

  • Listen to classical music. Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi have been shown to be effective, but I would also suggest Smetana’s Vltara movement from Mā vlast which follows the route of a river to the sea**.
  • Spend at least half an hour outside in the sunshine soaking up the rays, less than half an hour can leave you feeling short-changed.
  • Laugh. Watch something funny, remember silly moments, share a daft story – at the very least try and fake a smile which may encourage others to laughter…
  • Hang out with the dog or cat, they will calm you down. Hugging is good too.

And when September comes and the results, for better or worse are in – the young people will move on to their next adventure and all the adults who have been doing the worrying and stressing and fretting can breathe calmly again.


*The Rubik’s cube at 40 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0217k6m

**Smetana’s fabulous music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdtLuyWuPDs


Thinking beyond gender

QE 1Remember Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady” querying “Why can’t a woman be more like a man… Why is thinking something women never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Straightening up their hair is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside”

I appreciate that there is a lot of research showing that, in general, men and women think differently – they perceive space differently, they are able to handle multiple tasks in different ways, and they can exhibit different levels of empathy. A consequence is the expectation of gender specifc roles – women empathise ergo they go into Human Resources, men like making things so they become engineers …and, so far, more or less they have (70% of HR professionals are women and 94% of engineers are men). Helpful? No! because – to stick with my examples – in the 21st century both HR and engineering need new approaches to problem solving. HR increasingly is asked to provide a more strategic input to the direction of organisations. As natural resources become more precious engineers are faced with the need to use better husbandry and less profligacy (good housekeeping).

Given that not all people of either gender think in the same way – like everything it is a bell curve and depends on circumstance – I’d like to suggest new ways of describing different ways of thinking and behaving in order to encourage people to be confident in themselves and able to make the most of diverse approaches.

Thinking styles might be called Spiral and Linear.

Spiral thought goes round and round, amassing new notions, facts and interpretations with each rotation. Committee thinking is spiral – going round a group looking for compromise and consensus; teaching young children is spiral – “Now say thank you… now say thank you… now what to do you say?”. Learning maths is a spiral process, you go back to the principles again and again – adding complexity as understanding evolves. Managers use spiral thinking to make the most of their staff, assessing their performance and monitoring their skills.

Leaders, however, use linear thinking – identifying an objective and defining the strategy required to achieve it. Maths problems are solved in a linear way. Good project managers are linear thinkers – able to anticipate and allow for a sequence of events – so are film directors.

Some feedback on this notion has suggested that it might be a bit simplistic – but I don’t mean to suggest that women=spiral and men=linear thinkers, rather that by moving away from gender specific thinking there is less societal constraint and expectation. In the NHS, CVs presented for consideration have any reference to gender removed – simply a code number. This strikes me as very good practice – unconscious bias shouldn’t be a factor in choosing who to interview; if only we ourselves could sometimes think beyond the hard-wiring of gender.

Queen Elizabeth I* said, in 1588 infront of her troops at Tilbury just before the Spanish Armada arrived, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too” – and by either male or female standards she was an epic monarch. Surely that’s the potential that could be realised by valuing and exploring different thinking styles rather than gender specific brains.

*Helpfully she is also quoted as saying “Men fight wars. Women win them.” ― Elizabeth I Tudor