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: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links