Education Viewpoint: Spitting out facts in a mad rush

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The Independent Online
This morning, like thousands of others, I will know the results of the GCSE examinations I sat earlier this summer. Even if I gain the higher grades that my teachers have predicted, I will not be able to celebrate wholeheartedly. Quite simply, I will have been judged on work that I know was far from my best.

Unfortunately, I am a member of the year group that, under government instruction, has been forced to revert to being examined largely by written papers at the end of the course.

For these I found myself cramming my brain with information that I could spit out in a mad rush for a faceless examiner. I would never be able to discuss the quality of my work or how to improve, and the whole exercise was a joyless experience.

One-off examinations fail to take into account the many problems faced by students. Along with a number of others, I took this year's exams while suffering badly from hay-fever. Medication helps a little but for most of the time I sat in a runny-eyed, mucus-ridden haze. Also, nearby candidates were distracted by my animal noises.

In recent years, women have escaped severe punishment for murder on the grounds that they committed the acts while suffering from pre-menstrual tension. I sat in one of my maths papers feeling lousy and doubled up with pain, but no one will take that into account.

All of this is nothing compared with the experience of a girl I know who sat her history exam the day after her father had died.

Why are we back in this ridiculous position? The Secretary of State for Education said it was to ensure that standards are maintained. The standards of rushing through a two-hour paper without time for reflection? The standards that produce examinations which turn so many of us away from the joy of learning?

If the Government thinks that course work, which brings out the best in pupils, cannot be relied on to measure ability, then I have a suggestion: why not combine course work with mini-written exams throughout the two-year GCSE courses?

In this way you obtain a clearer picture of a pupil's ability over a period of time. Teachers could mark these exams and they could be moderated in the normal way.

Something must be done to prevent students like me becoming disenchanted with an examination system we find so demotivating.

The writer attends Highbury Fields Girls' Comprehensive School, north London.

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