I was unexpectedly placed in the position of being forced to take a timed test quite recently.
The surprise test was part of a professional development day – a ‘fun’ activity with a screen technology, where several colleagues and I were asked to complete a task using the said screen under timed conditions. Our times were to be recorded and our names placed on a leader board for the entire staff to view. It was immediately evident that there would be a winner, many close contenders and even more ‘also rans’ or losers.
I was very disturbed by what unfolded. Before the buzzer went there seemed to be a dismissive sizing up of each other, a mental assessment of how things were going to play out. This instantly created a sense of individual isolation in the entire room, which became cold.
The rules were that no one could help anyone else until they had completed the task themselves and then any potential helpers could simply point to the screen – not physically show how to complete the task.
Knowing next to nothing about the technology, I prepared myself to wait until support was offered. This brought the opportunity to observe how people went about ‘playing’ the game.
My colleagues are usually very amiable and supportive, good humoured people.
However, the moment that the timer started, they became very intense and their movements hard, forceful and excluding of everybody else. In between bouts of intense activity, a couple of them glanced at me to check out how I was going. There was contempt in their look that communicated ‘loser,’ derived from the mania they had gone into in order to complete the test successfully in super quick time.
Things were taking a while so I asked my closest colleague how to get started with this. The supervisor swept over to us and vetoed my colleague’s support as he was yet to complete the task himself. I felt the entire left side of my upper body, including my arm, go into a kind of collapse, accompanied by a feeling of sadness as I felt how this contrived situation of timed competition, of a winning and losing situation, had placed my colleagues into an ‘every man for himself’ mindset, which was totally unlike themselves. I was out of the game because I couldn’t even get started and I could not reach my colleagues to connect with them in our usual way, nor to ask them to support me in the task. Our usual sense of mutual support and working together had completely gone out of the window in favour of recording a winning or respectable time and securing a place on the ladder.
As people completed the task, the scores were placed on a leader board and many staff members commented how they’d like a rematch in order to get to the top of the ladder – to prove their worth and skill!
I was stunned to hear people say they’d enjoyed this activity after what I had observed. Everyone wanted a second opportunity to prove they could do it – they could improve their time and knock the winner, who was having a moment of inflated recognition, off his podium.
How could such a trivial, everyday task place normally lovely people into this state of intense competition in such a short period of time (the activity took four minutes)? What made them cut themselves off from each other to get a reasonable time, if not, the winning time, with such disdain shown for those who were self-evidently going to be ‘last’?
Our innate nature is to cooperate and to support each other in a loving way.
Contrived situations like this one remove us so far from this innate essence.
Moreover, as an educator, this begs the huge question of what is occurring within our children and their bodies as they progress through an education system that measures progress through timed tests, which rank and order students’ scores – even as far as on a national scale – from the age of 8.
If one four minute test could generate so much competitive angst, intensity and social isolation, what effects do the multitude of tests in education have on our children, their bodies and their world view, especially when such tests deliberately foster the ‘every man for himself’ mindset? Can we really continue to brush off such considerations with blanket statements like, “It develops resilience,” and that, “It’s only a test”?
In our worldwide education systems, some tests, and one’s achievement levels therein, dictate what University degree or career one can aspire to, and from there, one’s path in life. How do we measure or even begin to understand the extent to which this ‘test effect’ is compounded many, many times over in such pivotal real life situations? Or do we merely witness the exponential rise in childhood mental ill health and youth suicide, feigning to not be aware of the causes?
From this four minute observation, it appears that we all need to consider deeply what occurs in these tests and the highly deleterious effects they have on all participants – including the ostensible winners. Based on what was witnessed, I would say that the moments of ‘victory’ are brief and shallow and that truly there are no real winners at all. So why do we do continue to endorse such tests and force them onto our children?
A life of purpose – does the way we are educated affect our attitude towards life?
The True Purpose of Education – One Size Fits All or Evolution?
When exam stress becomes a matter of life and death: The effect of exams on student health and wellbeing
Gill when we go into nervous energy to deal with any situation we are lost and that is exactly why life is set up in the way that it is. We are all living on nervous energy in varying degrees which keeps us in the disconnection to ourselves because when our bodies are racy we cannot feel the innate stillness we come from. So understanding energy is key.
Your experience would be my nightmare; I would hate to be tested in such restricted and competitive way. As these tests do not account for the fact that everyone has a different quality to bring to the table and from that we can work together to form a consensus. In nature we can see that the seed needs soil, water and sunlight to grow. It cannot do this by just being a seed it requires support in just the same way we need support to grow and reach our potential and we do this best when we all support each other and not behave as individuals.
With any form of comparison we also get jealousy and either are killers of our evolution and when we understand these flaws in the way our society operates the sooner we will evolve and return to our Soul-full essences.
If such an exercise is used to expose the effect of time pressure and competitiveness then it has some worth, especially if it is tried with those who set the education curriculum! In a classroom with children it is clearly harmful.
The interesting thing is, when we have a situation that requires competitiveness it brings about a physical reaction in the body. The reaction is one that is familiar and either embraces the opportunity to show everyone our worth and get to the top, or close to the top of the leader board, or give up and know our place towards the middle or bottom. Those memories and expectations live in our bodies until we get an opportunity to call them out and re-assess their value.
I know only too well what it feels like to go into competition – the tightness, tension, blindness to others – it is definitely a form of fight and flight; a high stress physiological state that has an impact on our bodies and this is huge when it is sustained over long periods – at work, in our home lives, relationships etc.
The other day at college we had a surprise test sprung onto us and I could feel the anxiety rise so I looked at my wrist blood pressure gadget and my blood pressure had shot up eight points without even getting up. Is it any wonder that children don’t like tests when this happens to the body.
No wonder at all. There are some careers that need this level of focus but it would be much smarter to train our children to be ready for life with skills that are transferable rather than teach them high anxiety at such a young age. We only have to look at school systems in other countries such as Sweden to see an alternate view.
I had to undergo a test on a training course the other day, it caused the whole group palpable tension and stress which was not dissipated by anything. There must be another way of doing things where people do not fall into such patterns of anxiety.
Yes, much could be learned by the organisation of what not to do from the example in the blog.
It is hardly surprising how and why rates of anxiety are so high amongst school children, ‘If one four minute test could generate so much competitive angst, intensity and social isolation, what effects do the multitude of tests in education have on our children, their bodies and their world view’.
” contrived situation of timed competition, ”
Its so important to recognise “contrived ” situations and there is one easily recognised in competition for in winning another feels the pressure of falsely been show as less.
On the flip side I experience timed tests with mild anxiety attacks! This was how I bumbled through school and now doing an apprenticeship my exam fears have come back as fresh as if I was in school yesterday. I am working with my beliefs from school now but what if we didn’t teach this in the first place? I wouldn’t be regressing to a panicked 10 yr old in front of the training manager that’s for sure! And many other adults wouldn’t carry the scars of school with them.
Who decides how much time is enough for an exam? I remember growing up that eating lima beans had almost no time limit that I would have to stay at the dinner table till I had eaten all on my plate. Both are time-based judgements that others believe you should be able to do.
Ha ha that is so true, we apply the time limit based on the outcomes we want. I remember not having a time limit when it was something I had to stay and do/eat, but there was definitely a time limit on what I had called fun!
There is such an ingrained assumption that to do things against the clock is to try and beat time – a crazy notion when there is no such thing as time in the first place.
What I am finding is that if I forget about time, as in not putting limits and restrictions on when I want to have certain things done by or not micro managing my time then time seems to morph and I enter a different kind of timeless zone. There’s a phrase that comes to me and that is that I am ‘locating myself in space’.
‘I was stunned to hear people say they’d enjoyed this activity after what I had observed. ‘ Gosh, this is very sobering. For people to consider enjoying something that is so competitive to me feels like a marker of how far off we can get. Like there was a time when I’d have easily said the same. I’d have said how exciting and fun it was – a buzz of adrenalin in an attempt to get recognition which I lived for, a little like a drug so any chance to get some I’d have been in.
In the UK, electricians have a regulation that all of your work must comply. Every few years after numerous amendments they republish it. You are required to re-sit an exam when a new book gets published. The test has 45 multiple questions and you have 90 minutes to complete the exam. That is 2 minutes per question. It is an open book exam to see if you can find the answer in the book. The questions can be as long as this comment is now. A good practice is read the question twice then, go to the index that doesn’t list a page number, but a section number, i.e. Sec 4-13-b. Now you have to find that paragraph in the book. There may be numerous locations that could contain the answer. The clock keeps ticking. It becomes a race to finish in time. The exam is not to test not your memory but your ability to find the answer.
Absolutely, if one 4 minute test could change an adults behaviour then what are the constant test that children and young people at school doing!! We sooo need to drop the test and competition.
Steve that’s CRAZY!!!!!!!!
Competition invades so many aspects of our lives now, sport, academics, work and family. Even siblings can compete for parent’s attention if they do not feel comfortable within themselves.
It’s never ‘only’ anything. There is always energy behind everything and therefore important that we discern it quality and any intentions within it.
Yes, the ‘only’ pretends it’s not what it is, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing as the saying goes. It is mean too – like if you were to find yourself feeling disturbed the it’s ‘only’ strips you of the validity of your response, it asks you to downplay and bury what you may have really felt.
Sadly true Ariana. Comparison and competition are deadly. When will the world wake up to this fact? We can show and reflect – by the way we live = that life doesn’t have to be like that.
“Our innate nature is to cooperate and to support each other in a loving way.” I so agree. I observe young children automatically helping others and supporting them – with no awareness of wanting a reward. Cooperating with each other brings out the best for all and builds brotherhood. Competition separates us from each other.
It’s only a test …. that crushes people
It’s only the education system that pressurises children with sats, with exams and conforming to a whole system that is designed to make a child feel small and insignificant.
It’s only is never ‘it’s only’, it’s always a whole deal going on.
Talking to my son yesterday about how competition changes things, I could feel the questioning in him, ‘Can I really live in the world, at school, on the sports field without competition? Can I actually be and do things in relationship with myself and my development irrespective of what others around me are doing?’ I reckon these are great questions to ask in a world that never even considers an alternative to the misguided belief that competition is innate in us.
‘However, the moment that the timer started, they became very intense and their movements hard, forceful and excluding of everybody else.’ There are many occasions where we are put under time pressures and we usually buy into them – I know I lived under the rule of deadlines, forcing myself to complete things under pressure. I’ve seen what’s said here happen in the work place quite often. People hand themselves over to tasks at the expense of themselves and the connection they have with others. I have been this way – like a focused laser, anyone getting in the way gets burnt! It’s felt so cutting being at the receiving end of this so I now am learning not to put tasks in front of people no matter how noble, essential or good.
Yes I agree, Gill. It is a profound moment when we stop falling for the much promoted myth that competition is natural and healthy.
The invasive, destructive nature of competition exposed. And we big it up as being a healthy aspect of being human. Come on.
People change when there is a mere mention of being on teams. We see it as healthy to test ourselves against each other but if we stop and feel the tension and anxiety in the body it clearly isn’t healthy for us.
Yes Ariana. We do crush children by not meeting them for who they are first and foremost. They see their worth in the results they achieve and if they feel that they are failing they give up. That said we need to support our kids to understand the learning process, that it is a process, that most of us have to work hard to understand the lessons in school – it isn’t something that comes naturally for all. If we can support our kids to appreciate themselves and to value what they naturally bring they are much more open to learning, even when they find it tricky.
‘I felt how this contrived situation of timed competition, of a winning and losing situation, had placed my colleagues into an ‘every man for himself’ mindset, which was totally unlike themselves.’ Yet, when we are totally unlike ourselves in these types of situation we see it as perfectly normal and acceptable. In fact, it is so normal that to question it brings up tension and disbelief in another.
Thank you for sharing this. It is interesting that the majority thinks by setting up those kind of games/test we are going to be best at what we do!!! It might take a while until we are able to built something like the pyramids again…
The way we have set up our education system has a lot to answer for in the way it has us competing against one another from such a young age… my feeling and observation is that competition is the opposite of our true nature. This means that one of education’s main foundation stones is a deviation from truth.
I agree Matilda, competition is the ‘opposite of our true nature’, yet it can become so ingrained in us. A new work colleague commented to me the other day how great it is to be working with someone who is not trying to compete with them as we all do so much better and enjoy work when we work together, rather than making it all about us.
I was considering the other day about scrutiny… I have always hated being observed as a teacher and having marks given against my performance depending on the behaviour and results of the children I teach. I realised that my wobbles stem from an investment in what others think about me, competing with others and from a lack of inner security, but by building inner confidence and strength, letting go of any outcome; why would I not welcome scrutiny and allow myself to be transparent whatever the end result may be?
I agree, Rachel. And then ‘scrutiny’ becomes something we actually front foot as we live transparently, openly, honestly and without performance related anxiety.
The disharmony of competition and how it really feels to us in our body and the reality of the love we are is great to expose and see what is really going on, how we are living and what we champion as the way to be and the tests we impose on ourselves or are imposed on us in life. Very exposing under” its only a test “.
We’ve got nothing to prove to no-one just a simple love to consistently live, if you’re looking for the real test in life then this is it.
This shows the disharmony in competition and begs the question why do we still indulge if we know it is not loving. There is a reflection in this that asks us to be honest about how much we like and feed comparison.
Lately, I went to a one day course with a test at the end in order to renew my safe work certificate. The course was only about what you have to know to make a good test. There was no time for sharing knowledge or any conversation on the topic to get a deeper and tangible understanding about the subject at all. So disconnected and empty actually.
How lost can we feel when we are out of the game, but the real question of course to ask yourself should be: ‘do I want to be part of the game or not’ as that will make clear if we choose for ourselves or for the whole.
It’s like this test represents life and every day. How we wake up and then get on with the day we approach it like a test, how well we can do it, how we perform, compare ourselves to others or even just from our previous days performance. The comparison and pressure we are putting on ourselves is one we can live life but what I have learnt is that it doesn’t need to be like this. Universal Medicine presents a different way of connecting and living life and it includes loving ourselves to the max and letting go whatever does not celebrate who we are.
I and eight others are having to go through a testing exercise every other week at college and it’s not easy – it actually feels unnatural to the body to be put under so much pressure. One lady physically feels sick every week, even when she’s not being tested.
I can very much relate to that, I still remember the paralyzing feeling of possibly being caught as ‘not measuring up’, a feeling that followed me later in life in similar situations.
‘Our innate nature is to cooperate and to support each other in a loving way.’ – The moment we turn to competitiveness we reject our innate nature and the way we would naturally connect with ourselves and others.
My body does always feel so anxious in these situations where there is no space to connect and work together but instead have to work completely on our own, only for our own gain.
I’m realising the pressure I put myself under when conforming to time. Yes, things need to be done in a certain time but there is a way of doing them without racing against the clock and getting stressed and causing myself undue distress and disconnectedness.
These types of activities are championed under the guise of team building. Anyone could feel and see the change in people when you have them compete against each other and yet we still want to see it all as a good thing.
Whilst reading this I could feel the intensities of how it felt partaking in tests or competitions in the past. This ‘every man for himself’ attitude is an understatement and exists in everything. It commences from an young age within the home, especially when there are siblings around, in schools, in sports, applying for jobs, buying houses, retail sales – there is no escape from this.
I’ve been observing the anxiety within me but also in others when ‘assessments’ were mentioned at a recent course I was participating in. For most it was about failing and yet we experienced something totally different. It was relaxed, so much support from the presenter, unlike other past experiences.
There is another way – are we prepared to be part of this change?
An eye opening insight into the energetic impact of competition on a group of work colleagues; Its fascinating to clock how the energetic shift that you felt Anon amongst your colleagues and within the room was accepted by the majority as part of the process.
Whenever I hear the words “It’s only…” I know a seducing justification is about to be delivered in an attempt to diminish and disregard an experience which is asking us to consider perhaps there is another way.
Mmm very true Golnaz, they are fascinating words and essentially are setting us up for something.
‘However, the moment that the timer started, they became very intense and their movements hard, forceful and excluding of everybody else.’ – This is a great example of how competition instantly takes us out of our natural connecting, caring and harmonious state of being.