Tests make tears: How too many exams can impact a student’s education

UNIfied’s Anna Woodfield explores the topic of exams and how too many can leave some students feeling overwhelmed. 

The English secondary school system is comprised of 2 major sets of exams before you go to university: General Certificate’s of Secondary Education (GCSE’s), or A Levels (formally known as O Levels).

GCSE’s are the qualifications that you take when you are 15-16 and A Levels are the ones you take when you are 17-18.

For the GCSE qualifications, there are 3 mandatory subjects which are English, Maths and Science. Pupils are normally expected to get a C or above in each of these subjects. Alongside this, pupils are expected to take either History or Geography and a language, either French, German or Spanish in many situations.

Then you have a host of other subjects to pick from, pupils usually undertake 8-10 GCSE qualifications, this is including the core subjects, humanities and languages.

For A Levels, students usually take 4 subjects in the first year then drop a subject and take on 3 in the second year as the content of the assessments is much more in depth than it is for GCSE’s. Also, students are advised to specialise in the areas they intend to continue with at university or beyond.

These two sets of qualifications have many things in common but the most striking is this: they both rely heavily on exams. Even practical subjects and BTECS such as dance, drama and child development have exams and, with some subjects, the exams are weighted more heavily than the coursework is.

Yes, I understand that some students thrive under pressure but for other students, this is detrimental. I know that one of my A Level grades would have been considerably better had there not been an exam component, even if it was only 20%.

For some students, exams can be the the difference between a pass and a fail. They can be the difference between getting into university or not. Think about this.

I’m not saying that exams should be scrapped completely. For subjects like Maths and Science, exams are crucial to test students on that subject however, for exams like Music Technology and Drama, exams shouldn’t be relied upon so heavily. Students who usually take these subjects do so as they are much more creative and, in some cases, may be much better at practical work than written exams.

I am asking the government to think about this – you may think that exams are the best way to test students but I along with many others, disagree. Exams are just another way.

Think about all of the benefits of coursework – it allows students to specialise in their interests, it allows them to think independently, it allows them to be creative and show off their talents.

I believe that schools rely too heavily on exams and that qualifications in general are too exam heavy. By decreasing exams we can relieve some of the pressures that students endure, like unhealthily stressing on the morning of an exam.

This pressure leads to a number of things; it can lead to bad performance, or it may lead to mental health issues down the line. Students, as well as having to work hard, should be free to have a life. They should be able to have the occasional night off, they should be able to see their friends on the weekends and, more importantly, they should be able too sleep at night without worrying about “that dance exam tomorrow”.

Schools should be focused on one thing – giving a proper, well rounded education to it’s students.

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