|Posted on October 30, 2014 at 3:40 PM|
Written by Ellie Downs
Only 37% of all 18 year olds take A levels, yet without a doubt all of them have one specific day constantly looming at the back of their minds. Results day is perhaps every student’s most anticipated day of the year, with emotions ranging from jittery nerves manifesting itself in pale faced fear to full blown dread and tears. The question is why this day has such an impact on our academic lives, and can be answered with the simple fact that the grades we timidly uncover on that ‘fateful’ day are ones that have the ability to hugely influence our futures. Naturally, this is cause for considerable anxiety from the moment we put down our pens in our last exam.
Exams are primarily employed to rank students, otherwise why else would there be the hierarchal categories of A*, A, B, C, D, E or the feared U? In Finland, this system of ranking is non-existent, as the Smithsonian describes “There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or region”, and it is this equality that results in the smallest gap between the weakest and strongest students in the world. Perhaps this is a system we should aspire to, as their concentration of wide-scale quality education outcomes in a nation full of high achievers. But in the considerably more competitive UK educational system, students are set against each other, all competing for the best grades to get into the best universities and get the highest paying jobs.
Therefore exams are designed to establish each individual’s ability in the subject, allowing decisions regarding university entrance or even employability to be based on comparisons between each applicant. This can be done because exams supposedly give all students across the country the same opportunity to exhibit their knowledge and ability in the same amount of time, of the same subjects, with the same mark scheme. The only difference is how each individual fares up to the challenge on this ‘even playing field’ exams intend to give.
Every student responds differently to exams, after all it is an intensive –often month long- period of endurance, with a year or two’s worth of study being examined in the space of about an hour and a half. It’s essentially a chance to show off what you know, yet for some the pressure of such a condensed amount of time to exhibit all that they know and have painstakingly revised is often too great and can actually be their downfall, whether or not they know the content. Therefore the reliability of comparing each teenager’s knowledge can be called into question, for example two students can be sitting the same exam, revised just as well and just as much as each other, yet one might just buckle under the pressure of the exam itself.
Does that make exams a test of durability as well as intellect? Perhaps exams are testing us on skills outside the classroom, such as our capability to organise ourselves and be able to deal with stress- a quality no doubt essential for later in life.
Some even argue that exams aren’t even a test of intellect, but of how well one revises. Any sixth former will be able to admit that most of the content they learned for the exams they sat at GCSE or the equivalent are merely dim memories, ones that embarrassingly cannot be instantly recalled if a younger year asks for help, or that you found even just days after the exam you had forgotten everything that a week earlier you were stressfully cramming. In this respect, exams really are just a test of memory than anything else. This is should be the message teachers give their students, as it has the potential to reassure those with less confidence that you don’t have to be a natural-born genius to do well in an exam, you just need the determination to learn what you need to know, and the perseverance to do so.
So to sum up exams in one sentence? The obvious would be ‘a solid 4-6 weeks of stress, agitation, lack of socialising, and in increasing sickness of your own room’, but from a constructive point of view, they are a measure of your ability to organise yourself, your incentive to do well and of course, how well you revise, or alternatively phrased: memorise your subject.