Are exams pointless?

Some exams are archaic reflections of a ‘one size fits all’ system of streamlining. People may vilify them as an unnecessary cause of stress among students. I mean, what’s the point of finding out a person’s ability to memorise a volume of information that will be forgotten at the end of two hours?

However, it is undoubtedly essential we measure how individuals perform under pressure. Coursework conditions do not reflect the kind of high stress, fast-paced work environments many people will go on to work in after university. Granted, sitting silently in a hall full of others with their heads down and invigilators circling you like sharks doesn’t sound like a job anyone will ever have. But exams still have a purpose.

It’s a matter of reforming our approach to measuring a candidate’s ability in their given field. Many exams are not a matter of sitting in silence and writing. For example, driving, music and drama exams are more practical ways of testing the ability of students as they place their task in their proper context. As many people’s qualms seem to be about how their knowledge isn’t always adequately demonstrated on paper, it is practical application of the desired criteria that is the way forward in terms of how individual competence can be tested under pressure.

We cannot be satisfied with a system that trains some students theoretically while only the more privileged can get a head-start practically. Often it’s people from middle-class schools in middle-class areas with middle-class connections that have access to the best opportunities for work experience. As anyone who has struggled to write a UCAS statement knows, even one’s target grades are simply not enough. If we are to educate future generations properly, we must make the effort to create exam situations that truly prepare students for what lies ahead.

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Joem Opina

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June 2022
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