Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Exam time again :o(

With one son busy with GCSE exams and the other with A2 levels, I am surrounded by the detritus of exam-time at the moment. Both my sons' girlfriends are also busy with GCSEs, which simply adds and extra dimension to the stress. Snapping and sniping and the occasional bout of near-hysterical laughter at nothing-in-particular are the order of the day.

I have shared before my antipathy towards exams as a means of testing competency in a subject, and we once again find ourselves reaffirming our every negative feeling on the matter.

My younger son recently sat a maths paper, the first half of which was based around a single scenario. Sadly for him, he didn't understand the initial scenario, so half the total marks for the paper were placed beyond his reach in one fell swoop. Students were presented with a quadrilateral of some kind and given information about a 'transection'. My son is familiar with the word 'transect' in daily language, but assumed that, in this case, it was a mathematical term with associated formulae and methodologies and so forth that he had somehow missed (like integration, for example).

Can you imagine his mounting stress as question after question referred back to this diagram that he simply couldn't fathom? Mentally adding up the marks that he was effectively barred from earning must have been gut-wrenching when he had been doing so well in the subject to date. By the time he reached the first question unrelated to the mystery diagram, his stress levels were through the roof and he could barely think straight. He knew he had to get practically full marks for the rest of the paper to be in with a hope of passing, and this placed him under additional pressure.

My elder son had a very similar experience last year with a statistics paper which centred largely around a single case-study. He got 37% for that paper, after having fared better in stats than any other subject throughout the year. He promptly betook himself to a tutor (okay, we betook him... and paid the extortionate rates) and got an A on the resit. He didn't learn any more about stats from the tutor. He learnt about exam papers... and went from 37% to 80+% in the space of a couple of months.

Now let's think how that scenario might play out in the work place (or anywhere else in 'real life'). Somebody gives you a diagram or a scenario and tells you to perform certain calculations on it which are pertinent to the situation. You can't figure out the diagram/scenario. What do you do? Well, quite clearly, you get some assistance. You ask someone to explain it to you. You look on YouTube or Google or Wikipedia. You look up unknown words in a dictionary. You phone a friend. You ask the audience. Whatever.

Then you perform the calculations and present them back to the person who needed them. Or you buy the floor tiles. Or supply the correct does of the required medication.

Nobody locks you in a sensory deprivation chamber and expects you to do it all on your tod from memory.


So irrelevant.

1 comment:

V Yonkers said...

And you didn't even mention how illness (which always seems to appear just before these exams due to the affect of stress on the immune system) comes into play. The PSAT, a national exam given once a year and used for scholarship generation, came right in the middle of the swine flu epidemic this year. Fortunately, my son's school has them take it twice, so he was not at a disadvantage. But I know of many kids that missed their one opportunity.

You can call and reschedule a meeting if something like the swine flu came up in the office, but that was not possible for all those kids who were ill for the exam.