Rhiannon Harries: I loved exams. But maybe that's just me

It’s when you leave school that you ask what all those tests really achieved

Share
Related Topics

A hushed room in summer time, the air heavy with anticipation. Sweaty palms and stolen glances as the clock hands edge ever closer to the hour and we wait, with bated breath, for the pronouncement of those three little words, "You may begin". I'm sorry, I know it's wrong, but I do love an exam.

As revelations go, this is shamefully, un-rock'n'roll, but I am willing nonetheless to confess that my most cherished memories of my time in education revolve around hazy June days punctuated by three-hour bouts of furious, Red Bull-fuelled scribbling in stuffy school halls.

Happily for me then, my education took place in an age that allowed, or rather obliged, me to engage in my favourite academic activity on an annual basis. But exams are not for everyone, and the industrial action threatened by the National Association of Head Teachers over the statutory SATs has highlighted the degree to which schoolchildren nowadays are subject to testing.

The NAHT claims that the system is responsible for counter-productive levels of stress among pupils and that it serves to hinder the provision of a rounded education. Meanwhile, the head of a leading independent school yesterday called for the scrapping of GCSEs at 16 in favour of internal assessment methods.

By rights, I should be the first to leap to the defence of the examination system. For a long time it served me well, since a large factor in my love of exams was – at the risk (OK, the certainty) of sounding full of myself – the fact that I was good at them. But leaving school with a clutch of impressive grades will only get you so far, and you don't have to be a genius to realise that if exams are an accurate measure of anything, it is of one's comparative ability to work intensely for short bursts, memorise large quantities of information and spot the right cues to regurgitate it all. I simply grasped the rules of the game and used them to my advantage. While my father can reel off screeds of poetry from his O-level English days, I struggle to remember which GSCE subjects I actually took.

It is when you leave education for good that you really begin to question whether all those hours of assessments are quite the right preparation for later life. Suddenly, the exam-free future stretching before you can feel unsettling. How are you to get your hands on a neatly-stamped certificate that proves you are good at your job? It took longer than it should have for me to realise that success in the real world comes from sustained performance, not a series of hit-and-run demonstrations of ability.

Of course, assessment is an essential part of education and exams represent one of a number of useful means of measuring achievement. But relying too heavily on the year-in-year-out treadmill of testing wastes valuable learning time and leaves many pupils with an intimate knowledge of nothing more than a life of anxiety. Not a bad training for the world beyond, admittedly, but one that hardly needs to begin in primary school.

The NAHT's threat to boycott the Key Stage 2 tests may not seem like the most productive route towards reform, but it does send a clear message that this is one arbitrary academic hoop that children – and teachers – should not be forced to jump through. Even a die-hard exam fan such as myself wouldn't argue with that.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: PSHE Teacher required in Devon - Star...

SEN Teacher (Primary)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Primary Teacher required Devon

SEN PPA Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Teacher Jobs in Devon Devon

BSL Level 2 or above - Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are looking for Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Deputy Editor's Letter:

Independent Voices, Indy Voices Rhodri Jones
A couple stand in front of a beautiful cloudy scene  

In sickness and in health: It’s been stormy but there are blessings in the clouds

Rebecca Armstrong
Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor