3 legged stool: a fresh look at test results

A well-respected instructor in a prestigious health care training program. stopped me in the stairwell. “I want to tell you how I used the 3 legged stool last week,” he said. He proceeded to tell me about a recent incident in which a competent student did poorly on a performance test. After the procedure the teacher found out that the student had just suffered a death in his family and was planning to leave immediately after the test for the funeral. But the student hadn’t told anyone about the tragic event or his plans. He was determined to barrel through and take off.

Things didn’t work out the way he planned.  Uncharacteristically, his test performance was sub-par. He barely got through.  This was a smart,

well-prepared individual, and it was hard for everyone, the student included, to understand what went wrong.

“Here’s where the 3 legged stool came in,” the teacher said. “The student was certainly confident– he was experienced with the procedure.  That leg was strong. But although he tried to keep a good ‘game face’ and appear like everything was all right, he was quite upset about the family situation. In other words, he wasn’t calm.  But the really wobbly leg was his focus–he was thinking about the people in his family, the lost loved one, and having to catch a plane to get to the funeral. His attention wasn’t on the test.”

The teacher had performed a great service to the student by framing the test experience in this way. He elevated the discussion to a much more meaningful level than just a grade.  The teacher helped the student to look at his own experience in a way that had meaning, and implications well beyond his training. Through the lens of the 3-legged stool the teacher guided the student to understand what’s truly going on. His ability to focus was severely weakened in this particular circumstance.

In the course of our daily lives, in and out of work, we are all faced with challenges big and small. Sometimes these challenges are in the work itself, sometimes they are simply part of life. The 3 legged stool is a secure platform on which we can handle any of these challenges.  Calm, confident and focused.

Ultimately, tests are not just about learning the right “stuff,” they are about continuing to grow and live  to our full potential.

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