’Tis the season – wake up from New Year’s festivities and find yourself in exam hell. Facts crammed in, facts regurgitated out – so say the critics of this crux of Japan’s education system, with its unyielding reliance, regardless of changing times and needs, on time-honored entrance exams. Pass – sail into a reputable university and a rewarding career. Fail – languish for life in the social and economic periphery. Such is the stereotype.
It’s not that simple, and reform is at least being talked about in relevant circles, but for now, in January, some 500,000 young people are poised nationwide for the standardized multiple-choice” center” university entrance exams, known officially as the National Center Test for University Admissions.
Pity the parents of these students whose future hangs in the balance! They walk on eggshells. What should they do? How can they help? They do their best to lend support and encouragement, but alas, says Shukan Josei (Jan 20), more often than not, their blundering good intentions risk dooming their offspring to produce less than their best work, with potentially disastrous, potentially lifelong consequences.
It is interesting that there are actually “exam clinics,” staffed by medical and educational professionals, that help tide families through this seminal rite of passage. The one Shukan Josei consults is Tokyo’s Hongo Akamonmae Clinic, one of whose counselors, Takayoshi Yoshida, lists “three don’ts.”
“But first,” he says, “let me say the most important thing parents should do is protect their child’s health. Catching a cold before an exam can mean the loss of 100-200 study hours ... and could mean the difference between passing and failing.”
The three don’ts, succinctly stated, are “don’t say, don’t cool, don’t feed.” More comprehensibly, don’t say the wrong things, of which there are many; don’t cool the student’s body (in other words keep him or her warm); and don’t feed the student the wrong things – of which, again, there are many.
The prime word to avoid is one which trips so naturally off the Japanese tongue – “daijobu” (“all right”). It can be a question – “Daijobu?” – or a reassuring statement, as in, “Daijobu, don’t worry, you’ll do fine.” Both are destructive. “Ask a kid if things are ‘daijobu,’” says Yoshida, “and the kid will deliberately look for things that are not ‘daijobu.’ All you’re doing is stirring up anxiety.”
As for the reassuring statement, it does not reassure – quite the contrary – if it’s devoid of content. Reassurance should be specific: “You did better in this subject on your last mock test than on your first – good, keep it up” – that sort of thing.
“Don’t cool the body” – there seems to be a popular belief that a chilly environment is stimulating, and it is; not for humans, however, but for bacteria. Keep the student warm, even over protest, Yoshida advises, to the point of checking at night to make sure the student remains well covered through the night.
Food – now here’s a pitfall, a deep one. A parent naturally thinks food equals energy, energy drives the brain; fuel up the brain and it will function at peak capacity when it’s most needed. High-energy food means, or seems to, fat and protein. What first comes to mind? If you’re Japanese, probably, tonkatsu (deep-fried pork).
Wrong, wrong, wrong! Well, not entirely. Actually, this is appropriate, says Yoshida, during the “input” phase – when studying and absorbing information. But not just before “output” - the regurgitation for the exam. Fat is hard to digest. The extra energy needed for digestion is energy taken away from the brain.
What’s good before the exam? Grape sugar, vitamin C and yogurt rich in lactic acid bacilli. That’s Yoshida’s recipe for success. It might work or it might not. Isn’t it daunting, though, to think how many people may have got where they are today because they ate right – or wrong – at exam time?© Japan Today