To Be Decided: exams

Hey everyone, its time for more TBD and that means another topic that’s either predictable or totally out of the blue! So, on today’s column we’re going to be talking about exams – something we all have to go through and which can impact some of us in some pretty heavy ways.

When we think of exams, most of us think back to the end of secondary school or maybe further education that we took. Either way, the feelings of dread and anxiety are those that most of us remember. There were always those few who felt confident in the exam they were about to take, although its good to remember that even many of them often felt considerably less cool and relaxed on the inside. Finally, and credit where credit’s due, there were those who stay calmed inside and out the whole time. Personally, I fell into the second category, but I think that was because I worried far too much back then.

Exams are strange because we all need to be tested on our ability to do something but they’re only really effective at testing you on your ability to recall information, much like memory tests, but at the same time how else would you quiz someone on their knowledge on a subject?

I’m sure most of you have heard the argument about the fish being tested on its ability to climb a tree. In other words, exams are not an effective method of testing people on their individual merits. This argument has some good points – for example, what if somebody is good at a subject but has an awful memory? What if someone is the best in their class at a subject, but struggles to effectively communicate their ideas in writing? All of these are very valid points but how would we standardise a system like this?

The thing is about tests is that you spend a long period of time working away trying to memorise useful facts and information, only to find something on the test that was hardly taught to you or that you were unlucky enough to miss being taught because you were, say, in hospital (that’s just one example of hundreds of explanations that school kids use every day as to how they accidentally damaged their chances of passing a test later on!). Most of the time this happens without knowledge of the fact that they might have to give up on question in the exam as they were ill or indisposed, although maybe that is a criticism of tests and education or maybe the student depending on how you look at it.

I try to see both sides of this test problem as much as I can. On the one hand, the student can always put more time into their learning in their spare time but, equally, the first real tests you do are in one of the most important stages of your life, which is also the point where you are making friends and experiencing your first real bit of freedom. You want to continue to explore as much as you can, but if you do that you risk damaging your grades. It’s a hard thing to try and balance out! One argument is that doing your important tests such as GCSE’s and ‘A’-Levels after the age of 18 when you realise how important they are. How many times have you heard an adult say “I wish I had tried harder and focused on my exams”? That’s not because that adult was a rebel or a bad person, they were just young and wanted to go and do stuff they wanted to do.

Personally I think one day tests will change for the better but I also think that there’s going to be a lot of trial and error with trying to find this middle ground between being inclusive to all students while still challenging and evaluating them. I doubt we will see this in public education for a while as it would be pretty difficult to radically change the grading system, putting kids at risk of getting unfairly marked.. oh! wait a minute…

Anyway, all biased jokes aside I do like to think that a good middle ground solution will one day emerge, and it will seem blindingly obvious when it happens.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all do well in any test or evaluations you may have and I will be back next time for more TBD!

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