I’ve been thinking about this for a while but today’s exam confirmed it. I had my second biology exam today and although I thought the exam went quite well, guess what? Only 14 of the 53 topics on the specification actually came up in the exam. That’s just 26%. Not only did the exam board fail to test us on the majority of the course which I have spent three years learning, they decided it would be fun to ask us about ‘the 4 elements all proteins need/have’ and ‘why red seaweed grows at great depths’ which aren’t even included anywhere on the specification. And what about the other 74% of the course? Was it even worth me learning that in the first place?
This got me thinking about how exams are really quite unfair. I mean, it’s only natural for everyone to have their own strengths and weaknesses within subjects. I know exams can’t always play to everyone’s strengths but I just find it really unfair how the topics that actually come up in the exam are randomly selected as surely this gives students who’s strengths lie within these topics an unfair advantage. You could get a grade C in physics for example because the 26% of the specification that is actually in the exam happens to be the bit you struggle with most so then you and everyone else will forever be thinking you’re just average at physics when in reality you could have A* knowledge on the other 76% of the course that you weren’t tested on and that your grade wasn’t determined by and in actual fact the only things in physics you are not too great at are describing how double-glazed windows work (thanks for that OCR physics – in case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t want to be a window fitter when I’m older so how am I supposed to know that?).
Not only is the way exams don’t actually assess you’re whole knowledge of a subject unfair, there is also far too much content for you to be able to actually leave school and remember a single thing about the advantages of using immobilised enzymes or what red shift even is. I don’t know about you, but I find that as soon as I’ve finished an exam, all of that knowledge is just forgotten because my brain knows it is taken up valuable, unnecessary space which I need to prepare for my next exam. So far I’ve done exams in RS (ethics and philosophy), maths, English literature and language, history, geography, French, chemistry, physics, biology and politics and to be honest I can barely remember anything I’ve spent the past three years learning (except French because my brain weirdly seems to translate everything I’m about to say into French before I actually speak). It seems like such a waste – and to be honest it is – but because we are forced to cram one 300 paged text books worth of information into our brains after the other, anything that’s not needed anymore has to go, no matter how much I want to be able to remember it.
In my opinion, exams and education in general would be so much more effective and useful if the course content was a lot smaller and all of it was actually included in the end-of-course exam. Otherwise what’s the point? Reducing the course content would give us more time to learn and understand the information we are expected to know so revising for exams won’t become so much of a test of how good your memory is but of how much you actually understand and are able to apply that subject knowledge. For me revision has just become a process of forcing myself to memorise facts but wouldn’t it be nice of instead of having to cram all these facts in without having time to properly understand them, we could just know those facts and concepts because we understand them fully and are able to apply them to everyday life around us? At least that way we are more likely to leave school actually knowing how catalysts affect the rate of reaction instead of just having a sheet of paper saying at one point in our lives we were able to recall this information under timed conditions only to have forgotten about it before we’d even left the exam hall. The whole aim of school is to educate us and provide us with the knowledge we need to pursue the careers that we want to but at the moment this is not the case as we are expected to learn so much that we never have time to fully understand everything and if we can’t understand stuff, then we won’t be able to put it into practice in real life which is a fundamental feature of effective learning. At the moment I’d be no more qualified to do job biology-related job with my *fingers crossed*GCSE biology than someone who has never studied biology in their life because I simply can’t recall anything I’ve learnt. The problem with having loads of course content is that the only way we can pass our exams is by cramming all these facts into our short-term memory as we don’t have the time to understand them in sufficient enough detail for them to be embedded into our long-term memory.
An alternative to reducing the course content and including it all in the exam (because we all know the government would never agree to this as it would make exams ‘easier’ – nah m8, it would just mean us students were able to leave school actually knowing stuff but you don’t seem to want us to become educated…(stop starting conspiracy theories about the PM, Em, and stop getting over-excited about the incoming double-bracket)) would be to divide each exam into sections. These sections would correspond to sections of the specification which would give he course more of a clear structure AND allow the exam board to offer a choice of sections/topics in the exam so everyone gets the chance to show off their true abilities to the examiners and answer topics that play to their strengths. This would make exams a lot more fair and useful in my opinion plus it wouldn’t be too hard for exam boards to actually implement this change (although I’d never have the courage to actually suggest this alternative exam system to exam boards or the government myself…well, maybe one day).
So, that’s why I think exams really do need to change. I know the government is just beginning the process of making exams ‘harder’ so I’m sure I’ll end up writing a much angrier rant than this in a years time when I will have experienced being the ‘guinea pig’ year for the new ‘tougher’ a-levels, but if anything, the fact that I am able to waste an hour of my valuable revision time writing this rant at the moment proves that exams are too hard and unfair as it is and that these new reforms are only likely to make everything much, much worse. All I can say is good luck to everyone sitting the new reformed GCSEs – I simply can’t imagine how the can make them ‘harder’ than they already are but everything is possible I guess…