Forget revising under pressure of examinations, or even the usual challenges many a candidate face during the penultimate moment of their academic ability. Enter the real challenges, where some not-so-fortunate candidates have to sit their papers on empty stomachs, those going to new centres have to meet strange environs. Jean de la Croix Tabaro looks into untold challenges.
One may assume that getting to the examination room on time and spending three hours answering questions is all one needs to worry about. Of course, a candidate is expected to have read for the exam before so as not to spend more time admiring the architectural design of the roof.
Education experts say there are a number of rarely mentioned factors that do affect those sitting for their final exams and can certainly have an impact on their final results. These challenges are unlikely to be the kind you may find students talking about while on a bus from school.
It’s 1 pm and the O-Level students at Groupe Scolaire Rugando in Gasabo District are getting ready to enter their respective examination rooms to sit for the afternoon paper, Geography II.
However, not all of them are in the school already. Some are just arriving. Others have has sweets for lunch, while a few can be seen munching mandazi (dough nuts) as they stroll in the school compound.
Fatuma Ikirezi says this is not a boarding school and they do not provide meals for them. While some schools ‘innovate’ during examinations time and provide special meals for candidates, it is not the case at Ikirezi’s school.
“We are doing the national exams and we can’t go home, we just go to nearby kiosks and find some cakes or mandazi, which one can wash down with water,” she says.
Ikirezi’s home is in Nyarutarama and she now has to bear the challenge of staying at school without eating. She is used to going back home at 1pm for lunch.
With the national exams, she has no choice but to stay at school, because if she goes home then she might not make it back in time for the afternoon session that starts at 2pm.
“During the afternoon exams, one has to put up with the hunger. I mean, the less fortunate like us because this cake we rely on can’t last for long in the stomach,” Irikezi says.
Her classmate, Aimable Nkurikiyumukiza, who stays at Zindiro on Kimironko Road, has a different concern.
“Although my home is close-by, it is a challenge still because going there for lunch tends to distract me from the examination mood,” he says.
Nkurikiyumukiza wonders why during the national examinations, schools are not allowed to contract restaurant owners so they can bring food at the examination centres.
For Carine Lucky, the pressing concern is public transport.
“It is annoying to leave an exam tired and then spend more time in a queue at a bus stop with other people who have no exams the following day. We get home late and exhausted, unable to do much revision thereafter,” she says.
New school, new environment
During examination time, many students will have to make do with the inconvenience of having to sit their exams at a different school. For those in boarding schools, this sudden change of environment barely comes with enough time for one to acclimatise.
Suddenly, one is in a new place and has to spend time getting acquainted with the geography of the place, the meals, the infrastructure and anything else that may require getting used to.
Meanwhile, for the hosts, it is business as usual.
This situation automatically places the visitors at a disadvantage, while the ‘hosts ‘have nothing to worry about. So while host students are revising for the papers, their colleagues from another school may be trying to figure out where and at what time they could fetch water.
Sometimes this change involves moving from an environment where water flows from the taps to one where it is fetched from a distance.
All this makes life difficult at a time when one ought to be concentrating.
Muyoboke Ticien, a student from Lycee Islamique, in Rwamagana, is now sitting his exminations from ASPEJ, a private school of Technical and Vocational Education Training centre in Rwamagana District, where electricity is quite a problem in the evening hours.
“Time is indeed precious during this period where any minute matters. Of course, we have revised before, but it is tough when power goes off and you are not sleepy. You feel you are wasting valuable time,” he says.
Albert Nsengiyumva, the minister of state for education in charge of TVET, while launching technical and vocational exams at ASPEJ on October 30, decried power outages and urged concerned authorities to ensure it is stable during examinations period.
“The power shortage is not unique to this school and we would like the energy company to do their best during this period to avail power to every school that is connected. It is important,” Nsengiyumva said.
At Alliance High School, Nyacyonga in Gasabo District, power often goes off every evening only returning around 9pm. The students are not allowed to use candles to avoid the risk of setting the dormitories on fire.
Instead, they have to go to bed early and wake up to read when power is back.
From day to boarding
Jean Bosco Kabanda, the director of GS St Jean Baptiste Cyahinda in Nyaruguru District, has received 109 O-Level candidates from the neighbouring Saint Laurent.
He said: “These students are not from a boarding school and so at first it was hard for them to get used to our timetable. They are not even used to getting up very early in the morning.”
Why some schools are not examination centres
To get an examination centre would be a good option, but education ministry says this is not possible.
there are no general standards on how candidates should be catered for as far as accommodation and meals is concerned during exams.
“It is an arrangement between schools,” Muvunyi stressed. He said when candidates go to a centre with a boarding school, the schools agree on a sum of money to pay per student, and then they are given lunch and dinner for those who choose to stay at the school.
However Muvunyi said REB chooses examination centres in collaboration with districts to make sure every student goes to a closest centre of convenience, such that they can even go home for lunch if need be.
Five ways to get through exams
Are you in the middle of your exams right now and just can’t shake those examination blues? Here are a few tips to get you through.
Locking yourself away in a dark room for days on end studying is a sure fire way to burn yourself out too quickly and in my case, study sessions that last that long would make you start forgetting other useful information. Spend time studying, but spend an equal time with your friends.
Exercise helps me to relieve stress, especially with huge stress build-up’s the night before a big exam. Jog a bit to exercise both body and brain.
Track your eating habits
Keep a balanced diet a few weeks leading up to exams and sure, go for the coke and coffee’ late at nights, but i also find eating a second meal at around 2am helps too.
Have frequent breaks
Never study for any longer than one to two hours at any given time. You can spend all day studying sometimes, but your brain needs rest. Study for an hour or two, then walk away and maybe get some of the first and second points into you. Let your brain absorb all the information you just took in, then come back to it in an hour’s time or so. You will remember stuff much longer than just that night and makes you feel so much better.
Take a bottle of water in with you. Sip it slowly throughout. It’s a good way of remaining calm. Also, you can get through a lot of nervous sweat during a hard examination. Your body will work better if you replace it. There is research that suggests this can make a significant difference to your grades
What should be changed about exam process?
Fred Elisa Mugisha, social worker. ‘I think there should be first aid services at the examination centres to assist students who may faint or develop ill health during the examination period.’
Amos Uwamahoro, teacher. ‘Annual assessment marks should be part of the final marks of the examination. I mean, how students have been performing throughout the year and other tests should also count because I have seen bright kids fail doing well in final exams when they have been throughout say because of sickness or nervousness.’
Sharon Mutesi, student. ‘Students should be introduced to research methods early enough to build the culture of digging for information and real reading to understand not just to pass exams.’
Juliet Munezero, graduate. ‘Students should be given opportunity to sit for the final exams in case of failure to do so at the actual day. If I missed like two papers why do I have to repeat the whole year? The examination body should set special exams for students with special cases and other unavoidable situations.’
Compiled by Sarah Kwihangana