Thursday, August 13, 2020

Exams, What Are They Good For?

 Abolutely Nothing!

The pandemic has stimulated opportunities to re-assess several aspects of what were our normal lives and perhaps now we should
 take a deep look at what the purposes of school exams are and whether those purposes might be better served by other means.

Exams test the ability to pass exams. For sure there are corellations between exam passing ability and some other abilities but the actual skills involved, memorising a lot of information and being able to use that information in an ordered way to present an argument in a very limited time with no opportunity to check the veracity of the memorised information, is a skill that is required in precisely no situation in the rest of our lives.

It is unlikely that a measurement of this skill is a good predictor of either the ability to benefit from a university education or that it is a skill that ensures the productivity of an employee.

We have exams because, from the point of view of the employer or univerity, they are a cheap and easy metric, which, if everybody else is doing the same and nobody is thinking too hard about it, we can just carry on with and few folk complain.

Until something goes wrong. 

This year there were no exams so the nation has fallen upon pretend exams and teachers' guesses from many months earlier. Unsurprisingly, there is disquiet.

This is a good moment to look at what we want and how best to achieve it. There appear to be three broad objectives:

1. To provide incentive and motivation for students to stury diligently.

2. To allocate university and college places to the students who will benefit most from courses.

3. To help employers recruit the people best suited to the jobs to be done.

To expect that a single metric, supplied by somebody else, could fulfill all three objectives is lazy, wishful and fanciful thinking. Our education system should be smarter than this.

Aspasia, who probably never took any exams.

The Tory Government abandoned decades of gradual shift towards continuous assesment of school students wherby course work and end of module tests reduced the emphasis on final exams. This had been a progressive development, making results better matched to the world outside. The Government's step back to the old system has now unravelled.


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