Exams? More Like “Knowledge Exploration Invitations”

Exams on the long weekend…

For those of you in this situation, you have my utmost sympathies.  Though, you’re probably too busy studying to be reading my blog.  In any case, I’m sending all the positive vibes your way that I can.

It’s kind of ridiculous.  Back in my day (which really wasn’t that long ago), they were just starting to flirt with the idea of weekend exams.  Unless you were an engineering student, though, you were probably safe.  Weekends were a kind of safe zone – a sacred place you could retreat to knowing that there would be no barrages of multiple choice questions, no paralyzing hand pains as a result of your iron death-grip clenching your pen for 2 or more hours.

And now it seems that nowhere is safe.  The is no ultimate respite from the rigors of formal post-secondary evaluation.  Even the word examination has a cold, unpleasant, medical feel to it.  That’s why some friends and I took to the euphemism “knowledge exploration invitations” to refer to exams, which has a much more pleasant feel, wouldn’t you say?

Happy Student with A Paper
Image by joguldi via Flickr

Just imagine: when your friends ask what you’re up to this weekend, you can say, “not too much.  I’ve been invited to explore my knowledge.  Kind of looking forward to that.”

Sure beats having to go write an exam.

Yes, I’ve long been a fan of euphemisms.  Some people would say that they’re just a way of beating around the bush, or even intentionally providing misleading information, which can be offensive and/or patronizing.  While in some cases that’s true, I think euphemisms have done a lot more good than harm.

A euphemism is essentially a metaphor, a phrase or word used purposefully to evoke symbolism and therefore convey a large amount of meaning using a small amount of effort.  Thus, if I were to say that someone “isn’t the sharpest tool in the tool shed” I’m actually communicating a much larger amount of information than if I were to say that the same person is unintelligent.  I’m not only thinking about that person’s quesitonable intellect, I’m thinking about an actual image of a tool shed with a bunch of tools in it, some of which are sharper, more useful than others.  There is additional sensory information – visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile.  It’s a much richer way of communicating.

Metaphors in general have very potent descriptive power, and I’m a big believer in their use in therapeutic settings.  People generally like to think and talk symbolically, especially when the subject matter is painful or hard/impossible to describe using precise or objective language.  Inner pain or conflict therefore becomes a dark journey or a river crossing.  A difficult life decision becomes a fork in the road.  Anxiety becomes an insurmountable brick wall.

I always feel privileged to hear other people’s metaphors.  They’re very indicative of how that person sees the world, I believe.

It’s possible that in the ultra-PC world we live in, certain kinds of euphemisms are being over-used.  And I’m not going to say that there aren’t times when clear, non-symbolic, precise communication regarding negative issues isn’t preferable, but I think euphemisms are sometimes given a bit too hard of a time.

You can use euphemisms to your advantage, to shape the way that you and/or someone else thinks about something.  One of my favourite examples of this applies directly to job interviews.  Namely to the dreaded “negative interview questions.”

Have you ever been in an interview and had to answer the question: “what’s your greatest weakness?

Most people have, and if you haven’t yet, don’t worry – you will.  My advice is to remove the word weakness from your response altogether.  Replace it with the phrase “area of growth.”  Therefore, you might say, “well, I’d say one of my biggest areas of growth is effective time management.  Sometimes I focus on the details of a major project to the exclusion of other minor tasks.  I’ve started making a daily schedule of things I have to do, and have noticed that this helps me to keep the bigger picture in mind.”

Doesn’t that sound nice?  You’re not dodging the question, or telling them that your “weaknesses are actually your strengths.” What you’re doing is acknowledging that you’re not perfect, showcasing your self-awareness, and being honest about something that you’re not great at but that you’re working on getting better at.

What if you’re asked to talk about something that you didn’t like about your last job?  About a supervisor or manager that you didn’t get along with?  Or about a time when you made a bad decision?  The language that you use to answer these questions will influence their impression of you, and their decisions about who they are going to hire.

Staying as positive as you can, without being dishonest, may lead them to believe that you’ll be a positive person to have around the workplace.

So, after you’re done with all those invitations to explore your knowledge, it might be wise to do some thinking about some ways to describe some negative things in your life more positively, or at least less negatively.  It is, after all, a matter of perspective.

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.