This post is a collab I’ve done with Elm whose blog I’ve only been following for a while now but I’ve been absolutely loving. We decided to both write posts on our experience with public exams and the education system we have in England, as she’s just had her A Levels and for me, GCSEs.
GCSEs are a couple months ago now (thankfully) and with results coming up I thought I’d reflect on the whole process. I considered writing one of these posts straight after they’d finished, or after getting my results, but I thought that I’d be the least biased writing at this point in time: not too bitter from the aftermath, whilst not distorted by the grades I receive.
In England, most students spend two years prepping for these exams, and one of the worst things is that all your education so far is determined within a month, give or take a week or so. Not great to say the least. And it’s simply impossible to ignore the pressure that results from that. Your teachers and school wants you to do well, due to a mix of personal accreditation as well as school leader-boards, your parents want you to start working towards your future, and hopefully you, the person sitting those exams, wants to do pretty damn well too. The idea that if you do badly in your GCSEs you’re screwed over is perpetuated way too much, but the one suggesting that they’re useless comes up just as frequently, and, funnily enough, neither of them are true.
It’s a stressful time, whether you’re an A* student (or level 9 quality, but let’s be real, no one likes the new system) or if you’re someone who doesn’t find exams as accessible, you’re going to be affected by the period: mentally and emotionally. Stress understandably causes students to under-perform, and even worst, completely freeze up in the exam hall, which is a nightmare everyone fears. There’s been too many cases of people literary killing themselves over the pressure, and the government is still adamant on that the exams not being hard enough as it is. (Honestly though, how you could not see that blatant message by now!?) People deal with stress in different ways, and I also know a few people who barely get stressed at all, but, at the very least, students should have some support, from each other and from school, which is something there’s an undeniable lack of.
Some students naturally do better at exams. Just like how some are naturally more academic or creative; learn at different speeds and in different ways, but that’s ignored when it was decided to examine us all in the same way. I believe everyone realises at this point that exams are a test of memory and past paper practice, rather than having an in-depth knowledge of the subject. And again, is that the kind of learning that we should be glorifying? Or should teachers be trying to engage their students so they can enjoy learning, allowing them to get shed-loads more out of the five (compulsory) years set in secondary school. I do understand that the new GCSEs are trying to solve this problem by making them harder, but the only change to the system I see is a lot more stress and anxiety. Only time will tell if it was a good move.
With the new exams cutting out coursework in many cases it’s only added more pressure onto students. In a lot of the old specifications teachers and schools were given the option to include it in preference to another exam, or leave it out, but now that choice has been taken away from us. I can understand why, of course, many students and teachers alike abuse the system by helping too much (to the point where they’re doing the work for them) or allowing students too much time. Scrapping coursework was done, supposedly, in the hope of creating a level playing field, but when a lot of people benefit from the system, as it takes away some element of pressure, can we really be sure that’s what we’ve done?
I don’t want to project the idea that exams are all bad. Annoyingly they do help, whether to get a new certificate on the wall, show commitment, or to allow you to progress onwards. In addition, they certainly make decisions easier for employers and universities. But then again, if what’s supposedly deciding our future is an act of convenience, how reliable can it be?
So, what do you think about exam stresses? How do you cope and how do you think it affects you and the people around you? Elm’s written her post focusing on learning styles and the transition from GCSEs to A Levels, I’ve read it already and it’s super interesting so make sure to check it out!