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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn