What is a mean? We use it as a measure of centre of a set of numbers and find it by adding them all together and dividing it by the amount. What do we get from it? Well, as a measure of centre, it tells us roughly what value most participants received. by. Simply put, it is the middle.
We often think of averages and means as a measure across a group of people performing the same task. In tests, for example, the average tells us what roughly what the middle score was in the exam (actually the median, I know, but we are keeping this simple), and what we can do with that piece of information is compare ourselves against others. In sports, we look at statistics in the same way; if a player is scoring above the average number of points, we consider them favourably when compared to their competitors.
This is all well and good but if we want to understand our own performance better, what good does comparing our results to an average set by other people achieve?
Understanding your mean
When we receive back our exams, we are always curious to know how other students went. We hope that we did a good job but are more concerned about how others performed. We ask for the average mark as a method of comparison. We hide our own marks to protect ourselves from the opinions of other people. We always concern ourselves with others in order to make ourselves feel better but the only mark we need to concern ourselves with is our own.
It is important to understand that when we identify ourselves as being our only competition, we can improve at a much reliable rate. Our own mean is the only measure which will tell us whether we have improved or not. It is always possible that over two exams, we could score lower but improve relative to the average, if everyone else performed much worse than we did. As a result, we could be completely satisfied with a poorer performance however, that does not foster improvement.
In order to improve, we must first take notice and understand our own expectations. What did I expect to get in this test? Does my result reflect that? Is this how I normally perform? It is a difficult and often demoralising process but without it, we cannot measure our performance and without measurement, there is no management. When we understand our own expectations and the results, we can begin to improve.
Raising your mean
Let us have a think back to our most recent exam. I know you have already gone through this pain before when you received it but trust me, it will be worth it. How did you go? Did you get the result you expected? Maybe it was better? Maybe it was worse? If it was better, what did you do well to prepare? If it was worse, what really tripped you up? What worked really well? What can be improved on? Take a moment to think about it and write down a few of your thoughts.
What you have written down has now become your blueprint for improvement. If your answer was “I didn’t study enough”, easy fix; study a bit more next time. If you answered, “I did well on one part but struggled with another”, ask yourself what you did differently between the two. Perhaps you answered more practice questions on one topic because you were more confident with it but ignored your weaker topic. If you answered “I really did a lot better than I expected!”, that is fantastic! But why did that happen? What did you do that made the outcome so much different to the expectation? And do it next time!
We have a terrible habit of ignoring our exam results; taking them, stuffing them in the bottom of our bag and never ever letting it see the light of day again. But in our hands, we have the most powerful tool to our improvement. Feedback in this form is the best way to improve upon our mistakes but also confirm what we do know. It is painful to see the errors and admitting to ourselves that there are gaps in our knowledge but it is empowering to see the questions we answered correctly. Through this process of reflection, we can begin to raise our own averages.
In order to improve, we do not need to focus on how others are performing. What is important is our performance and understanding three key questions. What worked this time? What did not work this time? How can I do better next time? As soon as we realise that the only mean that matters is our own, we can take the steps we need to in order to improve.