Can management skills help students to pass the university entrance exams?

5 characteristics for overcoming daunting challenges

By Carlos Royo

Pause for a second. Stop and think. What stage of your life are you at? No doubt this is something you will have thought about during this period of confinement. There are decisions that will have an effect on the rest of your life, and one of these is what you choose to study.

But first you have to pass the university entrance exams and you may wonder: will I be prepared? Will I get a high enough grade to pursue your studies? Will I be able to withstand the pressure when taking the exams? Will I be able to adapt to the Covid-19 situation and be ready when the time comes?

At Esade, for more than 15 years now we have been running a management skills development programme for executives called LEAD. Thousands of people have already taken part in this programme: senior managers from major companies, managers in change processes, and also degree students from our university. In all this time, we have observed certain characteristics that we would like to share with you, with a view to helping you face the daunting challenge of the university entrance exams. These characteristics may also be helpful for anyone facing other daunting challenges.

Self-awareness is a skill that puts us in a better position to deal with a challenge

1. The most efficient people are those who know themselves best

A large body of research shows that self-awareness is a skill that puts us in a better position to deal with a challenge, to know what situations stress us, where our fear comes from, what talents we have that can help us overcome difficult situations... We are often unaware of all this information.

The people that are aware of it and "know themselves" are more likely to be successful at what they undertake. Therefore, when confronted by the challenge of the entrance exams, pinpoint your fears and your "unfounded" beliefs (those that are not rooted in objective circumstances), and identify the capabilities you have to face up to these.

2. Our thoughts generate reactions

The most efficient people are those who can identify their emotions and manage them. Who doesn't feel nervous when they are going to be tested? Who hasn't had "butterflies in their stomach" before an exam? It is not a question of "eliminating" this emotion, but of knowing how to manage it. It is about knowing why you are feeling it and how you can handle it in another way.

Daniel Goleman, the researcher well-known for his bestseller Emotional intelligence, explains that our physical reactions (nerves, perspiration, lack of concentration) are caused by our emotions, activated in turn by stimuli that we consider to be threats.

Emotions work
The most efficient people are those who can identify their emotions and manage them (Photo: PhotoArtist/Twenty20)

So if, when you are studying History, you start thinking "They're bound to ask me about those topics I haven't studied," your mind associates this thought with a threat, and your brain (which doesn't distinguish between something real and unreal) will react, sending signals to your body that it should protect itself. And when you protect yourself, you will learn and reflect less effectively, since you can only defend yourself.

When you protect yourself, you will learn and reflect less effectively

What if you change this message to "Up until the day of the exam, I will focus strongly on 75% of the topics and devote less time to the remainder. There is a very good chance that the exam will contain many topics that I know. It will go well."

3. Seeing a clear vision on our horizon

Richard Boyatzis, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, has suggested that focusing on thinking about what we wish to achieve in our personal vision activates the "positive emotional attractors," which are situated in the parasympathetic nervous system and linked to feelings of optimism about what we can achieve.

In the programmes for executives we have developed over the years and in coaching sessions, we have verified that the vision of a desired future helps us to achieve what we have targeted. This isn't magic. It's science.

The vision of a desired future helps us to achieve what we have targeted

Therefore, in spite of the difficulties and demands of exams like the university entrance exams, we would suggest that you picture yourselves on your first day at university; in the new classrooms, with your new classmates, studying what you want to study, or in some years' time, practising your future profession. Isn't this stimulating? Having a vision and future that inspires you will mean you can face the entrance exams with greater confidence.

4. Persistence

Pablo Picasso is reported to have said: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working." Besides inspiration and having a purpose (the degree you want to study, your new life after secondary school), it is also good to develop a results-oriented competency; the capacity to remain focused on results despite difficulties, without giving up.

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso's quote about inspiration and work reminds us that great ideas arise from everyday work (Photo: @south_nostalghia/Twenty20)

You will have noted yourselves that the overcoming of many of your challenges in the past has been due not to a moment of inspiration, but to many moments of continued effort. One of the keys to coping with a challenge like the university entrance exams, which will demand the intellectual effort of memorisation and reasoning, is the creation of habits. This involves developing routines and a persistence to establish partial objectives that will help you to move forward, without being dragged down by occasional pessimism or other distracting factors.

5. It is important to give ourselves a rest

Physical exercise, a good conversation with our friends, and a moment's amusement or humour unleash a flow of hormones known as endorphins that regenerates our parasympathetic system, so we can continue to take on our challenge with energy and optimism. Moreover, although this period of confinement removes some distracting elements, it can also create heightened tension or anxiety, which is why giving ourselves "a breather" will help us to remain focused.

We are moving towards a world where technical skills will become less and less important

Everything we have talked about here is not just applicable to the challenge of the entrance exams. It can also be applied to the next few years of your life at university. As you are well aware, we are moving towards a world that is no longer the one that your grandparents and parents knew; technical skills will become less and less important, and through your capacity to adapt, understand what is happening to you, gain control over your emotions, feel optimistic about the future and find moments to relax, you will be able to confront most of the challenges that the future throws at you, bringing you a greater degree of satisfaction and personal effectiveness.

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