Exams, exams, exams

Test_(student_assessment).jpegExams are an unavoidable part of all our lives. Some people thrive on them, some people hate and fear them. But they are a part of our culture of ‘testing’, along with driving tests and job interviews ( a kind of a test, surely ). For some they are the signal of the end to their career in education, be that at school, college or university. And if you’ve done well they can be a real cause for celebration! They are an accepted part of the landscape.

Exams also do more than one job. Not only do they measure your own performance but they also measure the performance of the institution. School league tables rely on results so that parents/carers can choose between schools if necessary, and these days there are even international comparisons. PISA is perhaps the best known. And, paradoxically, what PISA shows is that two of the most successful education systems in the world ( Finland and Singapore ) by these measures have completely different education systems. So which one to learn from? Our exams are also administered by specialist exam boards, which may bring some comfort. AQA in particular has good explanations of the system and highlights any changes on its website. Because there are and always will be changes.

I’ve seen proposals for change for at least half my career ( and that’s going back a bit! ). Recently there’s been a move towards more traditional approaches to teaching for exam syllabuses, for instance, and every year the grading system and results are heavily publicised and often criticised. Changes are usually proposed thereafter. The big question is, do we want more and more people to do well, or do we want to avoid ‘dumbing down’ the system and to make sure instead that only the ‘very best’ get the best results? The other usual concern is of course that as an incorrect grading can spell disaster to a career or entry to a university, are we marking the papers correctly? Doesn’t fewer successes indicate a truer meritocracy? These are all fundamental questions which have never been truly resolved to my knowledge. And then there are the alternatives. The IGCSE and the International Baccalaureate ( I. B. ) to name but two.

Continuous assessment is of course an entirely different matter. This is where a teacher/tutor who knows you well contributes some collection of marks or assessments given by him/her to a final result. That way your real effort and forms of expression are appreciated accurately and interpreted properly. But can it ever be objective enough? Teachers will say yes, but it’s yet another strand to this debate.

In any case, one of the secrets to successful study is to enjoy it. Be organised and get fit. And why not teach yourself to read differently for different purposes. Quickly and for fun in your wider reading and to broaden your mind, carefully when it comes to instructions and exam questions.
These are your opportunities and this is your time. Make the most of it!!! And of Oxford Open Learning.

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My last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. Prior to that, I worked in schools, colleges, adult education and the Arts, including a period as a local authority inspector. I'm going to make myself busy trying to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested.

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