The days of studying and stressing over exams are not at all fun. It brings a dark cloud, not only to the child studying, but also to the household. It is almost as if everyone is writing exams.
So, why all the fuss? Why should children write exams? Is there a method behind the madness?
Let’s explore that!
I remember when I was a child and it was exam time; I would hide in my room. There was a book I would use to write down all my notes. It was funny, because I would essentially rewrite what was already in my notebook. The more writing there was, the more I thought I was “working”. As much as this caused me anxiety, I also felt that it was necessary to keep me up to the standard that I created for myself. Without the knowledge of exams or test week, I would just take my work for granted. There would be no need for me to practise or have that book that I kept. I feel the same would happen if exams were to be taken out of the school system. Unfortunately, the reality is that in order to maintain a standard or even define a standard, there must be some sort of measurement.
The definition of examination is “a formal test of a person’s knowledge or proficiency in a subject or skill.” This explains the purpose for it as well.
Let’s look at why exams are necessary:
1. It forces learners to engage
In a world without exams, schools would be rather easy. Teachers would teach and learners could take in the knowledge if they wanted to and forget about the rest. I’m sure it would be fun and exciting and less of a challenge, because the anxiety of assessments would be gone.
Can you see this world? Sounds good, right?
The problem, however, is that there would be no way to know that the children are learning anything. As an educator, I have learned that children are able to answer the questions in class. They engage and seem to understand the content being taught, but the moment a pen goes to paper, something different happens.
Children do not engage with their school work without it being necessary. The reality is that studying isn’t all that fun. So children would prefer to play outside than to “maybe” be asked to answer a question in the class. Even though this world seems pretty tempting, children need exams to “force” them to engage with the content of their work.
2. Teachers need to know what learners don’t know
In a class of 20 or more, teachers need to be able to identify the abilities, or lack of abilities, that the children might have. In order to figure that out, they have to set a test to see what the child is missing.
In a classroom, we have learners with different personalities and different learning abilities. A teacher has to set out an exam that caters to all of the needs of the learners in his or her class. This test is based on the curriculum covered during the term. As you can imagine, there is so much content covered, which is why the teacher should give a task breakdown for the learner to know what to study at home. This would require the learner to engage in the content!
The main reason that the teacher sets this test is to see what the learners abilities are, but it allows him or her to provide feedback to the learners. This is so important, because the kids have an opportunity to see where they themselves are lacking. Feedback is done based on the marks that the children receive. They can then see where they need to improve.
3. The ability to improve is learned
Exams provide a mark for your children. They know what standard they are working at and the standard that they might want to achieve. They are able to identify their shortfalls and make a plan to do better.
The children are not the only ones who would benefit from this; as parents you would also then know how to assist your child at home. Many times, parents feel lost and don’t know where to start. As mentioned before, there is so much content; so how do you know where your child is struggling? The results of the exam will help determine if your child is struggling at school and the feedback the teacher provides will help you know what it is you need to focus on at home with your children.
People say that there is always room for improvement, which is true. But, how do we know that we need improvement if we are not assessed? Food for thought.
4. A tool for setting goals
Children have amazing capacity for learning. They are able to take in so much information. I watch my little one. He is one years old, but he already sponges everything, points to what he wants and shakes his head at what he doesn’t. This proves that children know themselves at a very young age.
They have favourite subjects and favourite teachers and usually this goes hand in hand. Sometimes they even have competition in class as to who will get higher marks in the class. This can promote healthy competition. Children can identify what they want to achieve in the next term. The teacher also uses these marks to set targets for the children in the class. As educators, we cannot just allow learners to remain “coping” in the class. We then set a new target for the following term so that the learner has a new goal. If the learner does not reach the goal, a reason must be provided.
This analysis is important for the growth of the individual learner, but it provides data for the whole class. An item-error analysis can be done so that the teacher can see with which question all the learners or majority of the learners struggled. The teacher can then make use of the same questions in the next lesson. The idea is to bridge the gap of what is known and what is unknown.
Exams might be stressful and cause concern in parents and children, but as mentioned in this blog, there are many benefits.
The structure and construction of exams are essential in how the results can be interpreted, and the results are necessary. What is the point of formal schooling without assessment? How do we know if a child is meeting the requirements of the next grade? We need some way of measuring it.
How is that knowledge measured? Children’s individual goal setting and knowledge acquisition depends on the results of these exams. Children are taught the value of their hard work and what that could mean.
School is supposed to teach children how to cope in the working world. In the working world, there are appraisal systems based on the work ethic and abilities of staff. Therefore exams set the tone of the appraisal system.
So next time you hear the word “exam” I hope that you see beyond just an academic assessment. They are a lot more important than that.