It’s that time of year. Christmas has long gone, not a shred of tinsel in sight. It’s almost the end of January, and every student knows what that means; soon it will be February. Summer is just around the corner, and so is exam season.
The real student life begins young – a never-ending nightmare of tests, from primary school, onto end-of-year exams in secondary school, to GCSEs, to A-Levels. Although the average student can relax come July time, when exams are a distant memory, the feeling is bittersweet, as they know they’ll probably have to face it all again next year, or even sooner if the mocks come knocking.
For some reason, despite the fact that exams are a huge cause of stress, spike anxiety, and a source of sleepless nights, they’re still hanging around. But are they really a good and accurate example of intelligence? We already know that everyone learns differently (some are visual learners, and some prefer audio, whereas others just need to open a textbook and absorb the knowledge) so why is it so hard to believe that everyone tests differently?
We all know that person who skips lessons, shows up late with a Starbucks in their hand, ignores the reading, and still manages to get top marks. Back in school there were few things as earth shattering as failing that one exam you need to get into the university of your choice. And then, when you get to university, exams still lurk around every corner, waiting to jump out at you.
“If these schools are performing fine with little to no examinations, why do we have such a focus on them, or even examinations at all?”
The UK may be strict on schools here, but other places do things differently. Shanghai have set a limit on the amount of homework children are given every day, and in Hong Kong, primary school children don’t need to suffer through exams at all. This shifts the focus from grades and numbers to learning, making school a more enjoyable place for students. In Finland, official education doesn’t even begin until the age of seven, and the average school day is five hours. Not to mention, Finland only gives half an hour of homework a night. Taiwan doesn’t have exams at all for the compulsory 12-year education.
Which begs the question, if these schools are performing fine with little to no examinations, why do we have such a focus on them, or even examinations at all? It’s no secret that exams are getting harder, with the recent content and grading changes to GCSEs, making them tougher than ever. Exams are less of a test of knowledge, and more of a memory game, which hardly seems fair.
There’s no reason to suggest that those who perform badly in exams won’t receive top marks in coursework questions and practicals. Sure, there may be special requirements for students who are naturally slow writers, or those who find the conditions anxiety inducing, but it begs the question; if these requirements are needed, why do we have exams at all?
But what’s the alternative? Would it be possible to test students on coursework alone? Like an exam, if you don’t do the work (being less revision and more research), you fail. If you don’t turn up to lessons, you fail. This would be an easy switch for English and Humanities exams, but can the same be said for science and maths, where exams aren’t essay based?
“For some, not all, subjects degree exams are far easier than secondary school examinations. It’s not uncommon to take in notes, a plan, or, wait for it, even the book you have to study.”
That doesn’t erase the fact that essay exams, where you’re supposed to memorise fifty different terms, seven case studies, and learn to write a cohesive and coherent sentences in the time of an hour, seems less like a way of testing and more of a way to pick off the weak from the strong. The strong being those with excellent memories. Those of us who struggle with remembering what we need from the shop are doomed.
Even at degree level, you can find students waiting for their marks to come back with a faintly sick look, hoping their coursework marks will drag up the exam grade. This is all despite the fact that for some, not all, subjects degree exams are far easier than secondary school examinations. It’s not uncommon to take in notes, a plan, or, wait for it, even the book you have to study. Madness. But this leads me back to the question— if you can plan in advance, what’s the point of having an exam at all? Not to mention, we all know that first drafts are an abomination, so why is it acceptable to rely on them as a finished piece of work in an exam?
It makes you wonder that, with all the advances in technology, courses and content, why examinations aren’t changing too; and not for the worse, but for the better.