Thursday, 12 April 2012

What is the point of exams?

by Claire Stephens

                                               image source:

With revision season having begun, once again, students all across Britain and the world will be experiencing the eclectic mix of emotions that comes with the pressure of exams. As the caffeine intake exceeds normal doses and the food cupboard empties, it is inevitable that most students will begin to question the fundamental point of the exam.

I have often been told that the system of GCSEs and modular A-levels is a lot easier compared to the O-level and A-level system endured by my predecessors. I will admit that the ability to repeat modules countless times seems to have somewhat devalued the A-level as an ever-increasing number of students are managing to attain the grade ‘A’ that was oh-so-rare before. However, even with the introduction of the new ‘A*’, the A-level examination system struggles to distinguish between the talents of every individual.

How is it that a 2-hour exam can really show the intellectual capability of a student?
I am not sure it can. I agree that the current system allows you to distinguish between what is perhaps your weaker and your stronger subjects. Taking the cartoon above as an example, the monkey will undeniably succeed in this particular test, however the elephant would triumph in an alternative exam, such as who can carry the heaviest load. However, the point is that we live in a system where we are educated solely to pass exams, rather than to think for ourselves. I do not wish to count the number of times my teachers have referred to the importance of “exam technique” when trying to get the desired grade. Now, I am not criticizing my teachers; I think they do a wonderful job in what is a very constrained system. I simply wish to express my irritation at the increasingly devalued, yet consistently stressful structure of exams.

Since the coalition came to power in 2010, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has expressed a desire to return to the traditional system for A-levels. Just this month, there has been serious debate over a proposition to give universities control over the content of the exams, rather than the current exam boards. Perhaps this change will prove to have a positive effect, ensuring that students are better prepared for their undergraduate studies when they embark upon the next step in their educational career. In contrast, this argument highlights a fundamental flaw in that A-levels are increasingly treated as a simple stepping-stone to get students to university. Obviously, equal opportunities are vital in society in order to ensure that those capable of studying a subject at a higher level receive that chance. However, I do maintain that greater focus should be placed upon developing apprenticeships and other routes to employment, moving away from our current culture in which it is expected that everyone should go to university.

Thus, I may have gone slightly off at a tangent but what I really want to say is good luck to everyone sitting exams in the coming summer. The system may have inequalities and flaws, however the reality is that we have to endure it. So, let you all be the monkeys in this forthcoming test.

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