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

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron gives his keynote speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham  

Conservative Party Conference: Here's what David Cameron said in his speech…and what he meant

John Rentoul
 

Ebola virus in the US: How did the disease ever spread this far?

Sophie Harman
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?