As a seventeen year old student about to face my final exams that will essentially determine the rest of my life, I think that I have a bit of experience in the education system from when you first learn your times tables up until you’re eighteen trying to get the grades that your university offers are demanding.
I’ve already ranted and raved about how ridiculous I think it is that we have to decide our whole lives before we’re even deemed ‘adults’ (because of course as soon as we hit the age of eighteen we immediately become sensible, knowledgable adults). I have friends who didn’t do so well in their exams and are suddenly stuck because no university wants to take them in, meaning that they have to reevaluate their whole life plan. Another friend of mine has applied to, and received offers from, universities but since she applied a few months ago she’s realised that she doesn’t want to study what she’s applied to do. Instead, she wants to do something entirely different and is currently debating how she’s going to change it now. Luckily someone in my school realised a few weeks before applying to universities that she wanted to take an art foundation course rather than medicine.
So what is it that I’m really ranting about today? I’ll tell you the one word which simultaneously strikes fear into our hearts, makes us groan in frustration and have mental breakdowns multiple times a day: Exams.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that we all have to do exams but the exams that we have to take these days are bordering on pointless. Let me give you my education for example and I’ll start with my GCSEs. I’m considered to be a ‘good’ student but I can safely say that I don’t remember most of the pointless information I had to remember for my GCSE exams. Yes, I said ‘remember’ and not ‘learn’. We spent more time looking at mark schemes to see ‘what the examiners gave marks for’ than looking things up in our textbooks. It didn’t take skill in understanding the depths of Chemistry to do well in the GCSE exam, but rather knowing what words you had to churn out in order to get those marks. I once dropped a mark by writing the answer ‘fossilised animals from millions of years ago’ instead of ‘dead fossilised animals from millions of years ago’. All we had to do was remember a bunch of information which we immediately forgot a few days later.
Moving on to A-levels, I’m going to focus first on my English and Classics exams. My first point to rant about? Time limits. We’re tested on how much we can write in a small amount of time and yet still expected to produce a high quality, thought-provoking essay that demonstrates our ‘flair’ to the examiner. I was told in one of my lessons today – another ‘exam prep’ lesson where we looked at mark schemes – that I needed to talk about what other people taking the exam won’t. I need to come up with something unique and original that no one else will think of so I stand out instead of stating the points that everyone will mention. My skills in mind reading and seeing the future aren’t up to scratch, so it’s going to be really difficult to know whether the points I make in my essays written in an hour will be made by anyone else. Not only that, but for English I have to memorise as many quotes as possible for a Shakespeare play, a Jacobean drama and one of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer – quotes that aren’t in modern english with, to the ‘untrained eye’, a load of wacky spellings. I know I sound like a whining teenager – living up to the stereotype here – but I’d rather be tested on my analysis skills rather than writing incredibly quickly and churning out a load of quotes that I’ve been memorising, most of which I will write down just to show the examiner how many quotes I can remember.
Next, and final, subject on the list? Geography. To give you an idea, one section of my geography exam is the ‘physical geography’ section where I will answer a few questions on the topic of ‘plate tectonics’. It’s taken over a term – a long time if you think about it – to learn everything we might be asked on in the exam. I’m talking plate boundaries, plate movements, landforms, volcanoes, hot spots, volcanic eruption types, different types of volcanoes, earthquakes, ways of measuring earthquakes, the history of plate tectonics AND MORE. I will spend hours and hours and hours learning all of this information – as well as refining my skill to be ‘synoptic’ and a bunch of case studies which I must know facts and figures for – but in my exam I will be tested on a minuscule part of my knowledge. I could just be asked about earthquakes, which means all my knowledge on volcanoes will be made pointless, or I could even just be asked on ways to measure earthquakes and how they vary, in which case everything else I know will be, you guessed it, pointless.
Now don’t go taking this rant the wrong way. I actually adore all of my subjects and I’m one of those abnormal teenagers – again, fighting the stereotype – who actually enjoys school (well, to an extent, anyway). I’m planning on going to university this september to study English and Classics and I can’t wait, but what I really want to get across to you is that I think the way we are examined doesn’t best demonstrate our knowledge. So many students will be doing exams this year and will do badly – not because they’re dumb or didn’t revise or had bad teachers, but because they couldn’t write fast enough and ran out of time, or couldn’t remember that one word the examiners are looking for to award a mark. Maybe their ability for memorising information isn’t fantastic at the moment or maybe they’re just so stressed out that when they walk into the exam they can’t remember a thing and spend the whole exam time writing meaningless detail which will just receive a big, red cross.
I want the way teenagers are tested in schools to change – and for the better – so that we can all have a better chance to show how well we can do.
Anyway, if you’re facing exams this year then I wish you the best of luck and, if you want, leave a comment to tell me what you think about exams, pressure or anything of that variety. I’ll just be sitting here revising some mark schemes so that, when summer rolls around, I can walk into my exam and write exactly what the examiners want to see. ~Eleanor