Fresh out of the belly of the monster, I have escaped its clutches and shiny teeth, only to find myself a little bit disappointed at the experience. I speak of A-Levels of course, into which we were dropped right at the beginning of the introduction of linear courses, after managing to escape before the numbered grading system took a hold of the GCSEs.
In short, for almost all subjects, linear courses meant learning content across two years and having all exams at the end of this period. This was a change from the original system of having AS and A2 years, consisting of exams at the end of the first and second year, including the option to resit any first year modules that may not have gone as well as you’d hoped. Also, new courses meant a new curriculum which meant either awfully speedy teacher training or teachers winging it as best as they could with only confusing specifications to guide them. I don’t mean to disregard the education of any teacher but the reality remains that technological advances have caused extreme development in certain fields which becomes uncharted territory until people aim to stay on top of new information being uncovered.
Further still, every step I climb on the ladder of qualifications, (SATs to GCSEs to A-Levels) I am reminded by teachers that what we have learnt before was a simplified version of the truth and at this point in my life they will attempt to unveil a little bit more information, but not quite enough to teach us the truth. It’s only when you decide to pursue that field for the rest of your life that you can understand the real intricacies of it! Now I don’t mean this in a completely negative way because it’s true that some things are too difficult to comprehend when you’re younger but when there is a passion for learning behind a question and teachers still refuse to expand for the sake of sticking to the course, I am disappointed but not surprised.
As if these difficulties weren’t enough, I have to question whether exam questions are even remotely an efficient way of measuring someone’s knowledge of a subject. I’ve witnessed questions in so many forms that I’ve managed to categorise every thought that runs through my head when I see a question:
- I’ve done something very similar to this before and it’s a case of using a model answer.
I know this won’t apply to certain subjects like English (you’ll have to forgive me, seeing as I didn’t do English at A-Level and I’m not qualified enough to refer to it specifically) but I’ve seen this be the case in a very wide range of subjects. My problem with this is that there are often such scrupulous mark schemes for these questions, requiring precise words to be used, so someone who knows exactly what they’re talking about but not being able to recall mark schemes verbatim would not get very many marks.
Frankly, I think the ability to put a concept into your own words is far more impressive and more indicative of understanding than writing, word-for-word, a model answer which wouldn’t require much thought after practice. Not to overlook the time and effort it takes to memorise things, of course, which has actually become a necessity for students now. I question why we have an education system that forces students to resort to memorising in the name of learning.
2. This question is referring to a concept I learned about which I have every intention of writing about, though I’m unaware of how much detail to include.
This one really grinds my gears because disguising a question with ambiguous command words only makes it more difficult for students to decide exactly what they need to write about in order to access the marks. It makes no sense to me why exam boards wouldn’t want students to be clear on what to write, which would actually prove that they either know or don’t know a concept, as opposed to making them guess what the question is referring to specifically.
3. I have no idea what exactly this question wants because it’s confusing and worded strangely.
Application of knowledge is important, I’ll admit that openly, but the logical sequence of thoughts that goes through a student’s head while reading a question needs to be somewhat linked to what the question is asking at least. I’m speaking mostly about science subjects here (biology in particular!) which seem to really clutch at straws with linking exam questions to taught ideas.
I’ve spoken mostly about A-Levels because I’ve just done them and I never experienced the new GCSEs (thank God) but perhaps coming into reformed A-Levels with the limited foundations built by the unreformed GCSEs was almost worse than having to do the new GCSEs altogether. From what I’ve seen of the reformed GCSEs, they are a lot more in-depth compared to what I was tested on in 2016. While I can completely understand the outrage about this, I can’t help but imagine it would lead to having a broader range of knowledge coming into the new courses. Whether this would actually be of any use ultimately is questionable and not really something I can say with certainty, but harder concepts may prove easier to understand having done them before.
Beyond all the issues, however, the sheer stress and pressure of working incredibly hard for exams, only to be told that exams have gotten easier and people have it much worse, is unbelievable. Discounting anyone’s effort because of statistics proving students are doing better and therefore that exams are getting easier is especially infuriating because the media will spin numbers any which way for the sake of proving their point for a story.
I mean, why wouldn’t the prospect of having your entire A-Level grade resting on a few exams be alarming? Students have expressed time and time again how their mental health suffers from the stress of college but you only have to take a quick trip through social media to really see it firsthand. This exam season, in particular, has seen the rise of bloggers and influencers expressing their dissatisfaction at their own performance on exams which I’ve witnessed myself at my own college too.
The goal of the government in introducing this reform has been to raise standards of education in England to make them more comparable to other countries, and I believe that by taking steps to continuously reform and change qualifications, the government doesn’t take into account the real, physical and mental effects on students living through it. They sure don’t call them the hardest years of your life for no reason.