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Exams Are Useless (Kind Of)

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Rita wants the way we do exams to change. Before they consume our lives for the worse.

School isn’t my favourite place, but I know I need it.

School isn’t my favourite place, but I know I need it. I know I’m not the only one. Picture this. You’re doing some math revision and you’ve got an A4 paper completely full to the brim with topics, and let’s be honest…you hate math. You’d rather watch an episode of your favourite TV show, but that’s life, right? It’s hard? But it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to stress about all the equations you don’t know, the one’s you’ll never use again, the fact that you can’t solve for x, but you have to do it, because that’s life, right? No, it’s not, that’s education…for too many people, including me.

Now Not to blow my trumpet but as a 15-year-old who’s spent up to six hours in the place five days a week for 11 years I’d say I’ve got a pretty good idea of how things are run and have a reliable opinion on said things. I would also like to add…from what you’ve read so far, you’re probably thinking ‘Oh great, here’s another teenager who hates school and is constantly complaining’. But I by no means hate school. I think it’s an enormous thing to be grateful for and gives us so many opportunities to achieve our dreams, and for that I am extremely happy that it exists. However, nothings perfect, the same goes for school, no matter how good the rating from Ofsted is.

I chatted to some fellow students and ex- students who’ve gone through the world having experienced life with and without school.

How School Affects Your Well-Being

It’s obvious that exams affect students their parents, anyone who works in the education system, but for those who of you who left school said ‘adios’ and never looked back I say this:

Well done for making it out of school. The next generation you’ve either created and have children, or you work with and/or are your friends.

The mental health of this generation is slowly declining. For many reasons, but one of them being school, and exam stress. This is a starting point for looking for relief. Which doesn’t always come from the safest of places. ChildLine did a survey of 1300 young people. The survey found that young people ‘coped with anxiety by smoking, taking drugs and self-harming’. Also, half of students have skipped meals; two thirds said they had trouble sleeping and and another 14% said they drank alcohol as a way of dealing with exams.

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The mental health of this generation is slowly declining.

If we can’t cope because of stress and exhaustion how will that affect your life. Think about it. Teachers and students alike are forced to work into the early hours of the morning to hit deadlines. Allocating time for a ‘social’ life is effectively allocating a period of time whereby you will try to relax but feel overwhelmingly guilty that you are not sat at a desk completing one of 20 or so tasks that are on your to-do list. Think about all the young people you know who are in school who have to take exams and the pressure they’re put under. Do you really want them to suffer for a letter on a page that starts of the alphabet?

Why Do We Do Exams?

Exams are a series of tests that the government has deemed suitable to test the youth of today with. Even though it pains me to admit it there are some positives. I asked Steve, another student, what he thought were the positives of exams and he said, ‘You can learn as much as possible in a certain subject, it helps in terms of revision, the pressure can sometimes help some people in their performance, and the results can give you an overall idea of your skill in a certain subject’. I can spot a few negatives though.

64% saying they have never had ANY SUPPORT with dealing with exams.

As everyone is different and has a different thought process I think it’s truly impossible to make exams equal, even with all extra support you can get if you need it (for example a scribe for people with dyslexia). But most students don’t feel supported. From that same ChildLine survey, 59% of participants felt pressure from home to do well. 64% saying they have never had ANY SUPPORT with dealing with exams. Most of the people that are currently in charge, grew up in a time where questioning your superiors got you a lashing, so I can understand why it would be intimidating to change all of this.

Another person I interviewed, Anne, who has done her A Levels and finished uni, said, ‘[Exams] always made me worried and I always felt relief when they were over. I always felt that when I had to argue my opinion I came out strongest rather than having to remember lots of facts in science or math. I also think that they are necessary in some subjects but the volume of pressure that’s put on the students via the teachers. I think that most exams are sometimes more to do with memory and luck rather than actual knowledge for example, if a certain class had focused on 1 question that came up in the exam, whereas the other class hadn’t and then lost marks because of the lottery of questions.’

The Alternative

Before the exam structure across the UK changed, there was a mystical and beautiful thing called coursework, that us 100% exam students would now kill for. Obviously the more creative subjects were left alone because how can you do an hour-long exam in art. I mean there’s only so long you can comment on the shading before it becomes a shading essay. But even the more academic subjects need coursework. Like in science when you did a practical project that made the volcano explode. But now we get to read about how the chemicals react and form bonds in our exam, whoo, trust me it’s so engaging. Instead of getting to do it ourselves in a practical exam.

Anne said she ‘would change the amount of time given because in the end you’re still be assessed on the same thing, but then you just have the right amount of time to finish your answer. Also, the number of students in the halls, as some of them were really distracting. When I did mine, they were scraping their chairs across the floor’.

Imagine a country where children do nothing but play until they start compulsory schooling at age seven. Then, without exception, they attend comprehensives until the age of 16. Charging school fees is illegal, and so is sorting pupils into ability groups by streaming or setting. There are no inspectors, no exams until the age of 18, no school league tables, no private tuition industry, no school uniforms. Children address teachers by their first names. Even 15-year-olds do no more than 30 minutes’ homework a night. Imagine it.

This is what happens in Finland.

Sounds nice right, but what about the grades surely, they can’t be that good. Finland, has consistently featured at or near the top of international league tables for educational performance, whether children are tested on literacy, numeracy or science. According to the World Economic Forum, Finland ranks third in the world for competitiveness thanks to the strength of its schooling. There’s proof it can be done, and it does work, but don’t take my word for it, go research it and find out about Finland yourself, go change something.

Think about all those people that end up with the horrible effects of exams. Think about all the young people you know and ask them how they feel, just ask. Prove to them that you want to help them and aren’t just going to let them suffer because our idea isn’t shared by the majority. Make sure you’re doing something otherwise NOTHING will change.

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Got a hot opinion about your school? Let us know in the comments.