News & Events

Exams: The good, the bad, the ugly

It is tough not to think about exams this week, with both public examination groups now well underway, and internal school exams for most other year groups taking place.

Funnily enough, my abiding impression of this week is a sense of calm! It is probably generated by the weeks and months that have gone before. The anticipation of an event is often far scarier than the event itself, is it not?

Of course, a busy schedule of exams does keep the mind focussed. Granted, they are split across a weekend for some breathing space (or several weeks in the case of public exams). Nonetheless, there is an increased incentive to avoid unnecessary distractions, and the drive and determination to give a good account of oneself prevails.

Exams are viewed by some as a dying remnant of an education system braced for technological and ideological reform. Artificial Intelligence and adaptive software will present other ways to “test” knowledge. For others, the challenge of demonstrating knowledge at a specific time, in a specific place, without any support other than the ink in your pen, is viewed as vital to differentiate those who can collate information and deliver it under pressure. Whether or not we will see a hybrid exam system which features elements of both, only time will tell.

The thing that exams can do, of course, is shine a light on topics and ask questions of candidates which reach far beyond the exam syllabus:

  • How much have you understood about ionic-bonding?
  • Can you apply the knowledge to this novel situation? But also, did you get it first time? Or have you spent ages outside of class using resources to support you to your level of understanding? And if so, has it worked?
  • Were you studying SMART?
  • Did you give yourself enough time?
  • Did you do the questions you knew first so that you didn’t get stuck somewhere and waste time?
  • Do you have reasonable regrets about the “could’ve done that better”?

And once exams are over and results are in, they continue to provide further food for thought. How happy am I? Did I deserve that result? What should I do the same next time so that I enjoy repeated success? What needs review?

Sadly, other questions can creep in, too. How did my friend do? What was the top mark in the class?  These questions are irrelevant, of course, and we would do well to remind pupils of that at every opportunity.

Year 7 and 8 had a day focussing on Resilience and Friendships on the day after their exams finished. The day was full of opportunities to work in teams, develop understanding of issues together, reflect on pupils’ own outlook on social interactions. It provided just the tonic, and hopefully goes some way to lessening the comparative element that can sneak into the exams feedback process.

There are a lot of question marks in this piece! The pupils will be fed up of questions written on papers after the week they have just had. However, I hope they are also developing the answers to the questions which weren’t on the paper, but which a set of exams can offer. These are much more potent in young people being honest about their way or working and learning. If they can begin answering those, they will find it a lot easier to make progress in many aspects of their lives, far beyond the academic.

Mr David King
Deputy Head (Pastoral)