Friday, June 12, 2009

On exams... again!

I recently posted a little rant about exams. In recent weeks, I have discussed the concept with several people in different spaces. You see, for us in the UK (and probably the USA and Canada), this is exam time, as the academic year draws to a close. When you're the parent of a kid going through it, you might as well be going through it yourself, such is the impact on your life... and stress levels.

One of the analogies I have used is this: you have a glass-bottomed boat. You sail around a certain body of water for a year. Then for 45 minutes you go down and look through the glass bottom. On the basis of this short window (excuse the pun), you make a pronouncement about the state of the ecosystem in that body of water. It's ludicrous.

Today, Harold Jarche pointed me at this post by Daniel Lamire, which in turn pointed me to this post by Jon Dron. Dron's dripping sarcasm is clear in this summary of what the exam process taught him:

  • that slow, steady, careful work is not worth the hassle - a bit of cramming (typically one-three days seemed to work for me) in a mad rush just before the event works much more effectively and saves a lot of time
  • the corollary - adrenalin is necessary to achieve anything worth achieving
  • that the most important things in life generally take around three hours to complete
  • that extrinsic motivation, the threat of punishment and the lure of reward, is more important than making what we do fun, enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding
  • that we are judged not on what we achieve or how we grow but on how well we can display our skills in an intense, improbably weird and disconcerting setting
He touches on a key issue when he says "I learnt to do exams early in life better than I learnt most of the subjects I was examined on and have typically done far better than I deserve in such circumstances."

And that's it in a nutshell. This is where my elder son falls down. His biology teacher told me earlier this year, "When you speak to him, you think he's really intelligent. But when you see his written work, you realise he isn't really." I think my jaw hit the desk. The PE theory teacher, however, summed it up more astutely: "This is one very clever kid. He just doesn't play the exam game."


V Yonkers said...

That comment from the biology teacher reminds me of the teacher my son and his classmates just refer to as "She who must not be named." Their final exam for English consisted of 300 multiple choice questions asking facts about books they read for the year such as, "when Pip enters the store, who does he see?" She told them before the exam that she feels too many students are going to college so she intends to make their exams as difficult to pass as possible. Great teacher, huh?

I feel your pain.

Jax said...

I think you learn more about the biology teacher's intelligence than your son's from that exchange!

Karyn Romeis said...

@Virgnia "I feel your pain" Yup - you and I have many experiences in common on this bumpy road called parenting!

@Jax Thanks. I think so, too!