Art School Survival Guide #5: Taking the ‘ass’ out of ‘assessment’

Here it is, that time of the year when students everywhere are freaking the hell out. Art school assessment is a cruel and unusual beast. It may take varying forms at different institutions, including, but not limited to: displaying your artwork, writing about your artwork, speaking about your work and responding to a barrage of challenging questions about your work in front of hard-nosed lecturers and guest assessors.

Before you begin hyperventilating (I am at the memory of it alone), let me run you through some ways in which you can make it as painless as possible…

  • If permitted, find out who will be on your panel of assessors. This will avoid any surprises, be they nasty or pleasant.
  • Once you have prepared a spiel about your work (see earlier post for more help with this), present it to a friend, your mum, the guy at the corner store, as a rehearsal. Do this at least twice. Encourage them to ask you some hairy questions about the work.
  • DO NOT spend the night before your assessment desperately trying to come up with three more paintings, sculptures, whatever. It will be painfully obvious, and no amount of caffeine (or stronger) will make up for a lost night’s sleep. Make do with what you have already done.
  • Either the day before, or the morning of the assessment presentation, try and spend a quiet moment in the space where the assessment will take place. If you can, sit and look at your work thinking about what you would like to say. Public speaking coaches often say that it is far easier to speak in a familiar space than when you arrive in a space for the first time.
  • Wear neat, comfortable clothing but don’t feel as though you need to get ‘all dressed up’. You will regret this when your false eyelashes decide to fall out part way through your presentation, or you faint because your jeans are too tight.
  • Be friendly when greeting your assessors. Ask them how their day has been going so far. Smile. This will trick your brain into thinking it is amongst friends.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit to your panel that your are feeling nervous – sometimes it can actually help to say it out loud.
  • While presenting, stop and take a deep breath as often as required. This will ensure you are speaking slowly, and prevent you passing out.
  • Speak from the heart – if you are honest about your work and your processes you will be far more eloquent than if you try to say merely what you think your panel wants to hear.
  • When an assessor is speaking to you, look them in the eye and focus carefully on what they are saying. Assessors who have followed your progress throughout your degree, or who are just really lovely, will be dropping hints on things you can elaborate on and giving you the opportunity to make yourself sound as good as possible.
  • When asked a difficult question, try saying it back out loud before you answer to buy yourself some precious thinking time. Don’t be afraid to tell the questioner ‘I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean’ or ask them to rephrase.
  • NEVER answer with ‘I don’t know’. If you are truly stuck, you can palm a question off with ‘that’s an interesting question, I’m not sure if I’ve ever thought about it that way before’.
  • If you get emotional (which is more common than you think, either because your artwork deals with personal issues, or because you get stressed) apologise and continue as best you can. Whatever you do – DON’T run out crying.
  • Always thank the assessors for their time when you’re finished, breathe a huge sigh of relief, and administer beer/chamomile tea as necessary.

Good luck to everyone with their end of year assessment!

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