How can you tell it’s final exam season? Nerves are on edge, tensions are running high, and the university libraries are packed with students busy with last-minute cramming. My own students on the MIC will be taking their finals in about a week. This is a good thing: they’ve worked hard over the year, and it’s time they had a chance to show off everything they’ve learned.
It’s hard to know what sort of advice to give to interpreting students who are about to go into their exams. They’ve heard all the tips at least a thousand times already in class, and saying it once more isn’t going to help them at this point: either they’ve internalized the message or they haven’t. Over the past few days, my main message to students has been that it’s time for them to stop worrying so much about the length of their décalage or the breadth of their terminological knowledge and start thinking about getting into the right mindset for their exams.
This means what? Well, among other things, it means getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking regular breaks, in order to let what they’ve learned sink in. One fellow instructor told me I should order them to go to the beach! Not a bad idea …
If you happen to be preparing for your own final interpreting exams these days, then you probably already know that, in addition to the sage advice offered above, exam preparation also means thinking about such issues as stress management (which I featured in a blog post a few months back), channelling your nerves (the topic of this video interview with interpreter trainer Helen Campbell) and engaging in some positive thinking. However, it does NOT mean making radical changes to your lifestyle or consumption habits.
I mean it: now is not the time to start experimenting with memory-enhancing herbal preparations, energy drinks or the like. If you haven’t been a regular drinker of Red Bull, popper of brain booster pills or consumer of Rescue Remedy in the past, the day of your final interpreting exam is NOT the time to start playing with these things. Likewise, if you are having a hard time falling asleep the night before the big test, do NOT decide to borrow one of your roommate’s sleeping pills, no matter how badly you need to get some shut-eye.
There’s a simple reason for this: you don’t know how you will react, and the last thing you want is to experience an adverse effect (lack of concentration, upset stomach, trembling hands, double vision) during your exam. Even having one or two more coffees than usual might put you off kilter. At this point, it’s best to just stick with what you know.
But how will I stand the heat?
If you’re feeling the pressure of trying to get through the exams and wondering how you are ever going to survive the stress of the working interpreter’s lifestyle, don’t lose heart. Instead, I urge you to check out the following resource by the National Network for Interpreting. It’s entitled “Stamina”, and when I first saw the title, I thought it would contain advice along the lines of “practice all alone in the booth for hours on end, then half-hour turns will seem a cinch in comparison”. Of course, it doesn’t. Instead, the NNI offers some sensible advice about eating right, staying fit, and basically just taking care of yourself over the long term. Wise words. After all, we all want to lead healthy, happy lives as interpreters, not burn out under all the constant heat, right?