Lessons From The Eleven-Plus Exam

My I.D. number was 18824. The number was soaked into our psyche by our teachers, who stated that if we forgot the number, we could as well forget our future. So, when I sat in that room that is still before me today as it was decades ago, I could see that the sheet placed in front of me had the wrong digits. I began to doubt myself, since the supervisor placing the sheet before me was an adult. Adults were always right–or so I was taught in school at the time–and therefore I must be mistaken with regard to my number.

Nervousness, coupled with self-doubt, plagued me like never before. This was surely too much pressure on an eleven year-old child. As the head supervisor was about to ring the bell to signal the beginning of the exam, I raised my little right hand. The supervisor on my row came to me and I whispered, “I think I have the wrong paper, miss.” 

She let out an almost silent expletive, since she realised that she had distributed the papers from back to front, instead of front to back. She collected them and re-distributed the papers and we then began the exam. This one big exam that decides collective fates in one day. What are the organisational lessons to be learnt?

  • One inefficient person can cause a big mess. I am not sure what the selection process was for supervisors; and I am also sure that we all make mistakes. But having one person in charge of the “final answer” of your business surely is not good practice. It can ruin the entire internal operations of your business. Always have checks and balances.
  • If your team is afraid of you, chances are, your organisation may be performing below its potential. Fear does not drive creativity and can also prevent someone from speaking up when they see the directional winds moving in the wrong direction.
  • Empower your team. Children grow into adults who have the same childhood insecurities, the same doubts and some of the same issues. Communicate with them so that they feel comfortable enough to approach you with any questions that may actually stimulate an organisational conversation.
  • Never judge them based on one performance. This is one big challenge with the Eleven Plus Examination. Children are nervous, tired and may not perform at their optimum on the “big day”.  Continuous assessment of your team is necessary to determine value. It allows you to separate the sheep from the goats in a fairer manner.
  • Celebrate success. When I passed for the school of my dreams (yes, I dreamed about attending St. Augustine Girls’ High when I was a young child) my parents made me feel like I had moved Mt. Everest. Your people need to feel appreciated, celebrated…and even though some may not want to admit it; they need to feel loved.

Best wishes to all families involved in this year’s examination!

Lots of love & good vibes, Veoma Ali

Veoma Ali is an Advertising Executive, with a Ph.D in Communications and a Masters in Business Administration.