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Is There Still A Need For School Exams?

a bunch of school students sat at separate desks doing an exam

Exams. Love them or hate them (I certainly hate them), we've all done them. For me, doing my exams at both GCSE and A-Level were some of the most stressful experiences of my life. Luckily, my GCSEs had a lot of coursework to them so I always knew that even if I didn't do as well in the exam (which I never did), my coursework grades would help keep my overall grade up a bit more than if they had just been based on exam grades alone. However, my A-Level grades were a whole other story. I had virtually no coursework for A-Levels and regularly spent fourteen-hour days revising and faced complete and utter burnout that I'm only just starting to get over, four years after finishing my A-Levels. This isn't okay.

The main reason why I question the purpose of exams, other than after having gone through them realising how rubbish and horrible they are, is based on what my university course leader said to me on my very first day. This is a woman who has worked within education for around thirty years and her exact words to us were that our course doesn't involve exams because 'they're pointless and don't reflect the real world'. She said she wanted us to do assignments that more reflected what we were likely to experience in the world of work, so each year we had to do an essay, a report, an e-portfolio, a presentation, and a poster. The whole idea behind this being a mixed bag is so within this we would all have some strengths and weaknesses. For me, I started off by being good at the essays as that's what I was most used to but not so good at presentations. By the time I got to third year, this had switched entirely. But I liked that we had a little bit more freedom and creativity in regards to these and that it wasn't just one big memory test.

Because that's the thing with exams. They are essentially just one big memory test. Schools don't care about the content you learn, they just care about teaching you the stuff that someone, somewhere, insists on you being able to remember. I'm not being funny but the second I walked out of most of those exams I had completely forgotten everything that was involved in the exam. Plus, pretty much most of the stuff we were taught has had absolutely no relevance to my life since leaving school whatsoever.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but schools, or, at least, my school, always banged on about how the content they were teaching us was so they could prepare us for the 'real world'. But I'm fairly certain the vast majority of the stuff they taught us had nothing to do with the real world. Trigonometry was pointless. Algebra was pointless. Spending five different history classes learning about Henry VIII and his six wives was pointless. It was all just a load of pointless nonsense disguised as the content we would need for the future.

One example I have from my time in school is from English Language. I'm not sure if this was exclusive to the exam board I was on or if other exam boards had similar content, but we were expected to learn about different writing styles and only two of them were included in the exam. This included letters, reports, and posters, just to name a few. The main one of these my teachers decided to focus on was the letter, just because apparently it has been the one writing style to come up in every exam and not because it would actually serve any purpose in the future. I mean, who even writes letters nowadays? Why are we teaching children stuff that they clearly only need to know for an exam and not because it will actually serve them any use in the future? Make it make sense, please.

I'd argue, and I'll continue to argue this till the day I die if necessary, that exams are completely unnecessary. Every year on Twitter I constantly see kids saying how stressed they are about their exams and I really don't understand why we are piling this unnecessary stress on these kids. They don't need it. None of us does. I get that a few people may find they're better at exams than coursework, but I'm pretty sure these people are few and far between. Surely there's a middle ground somewhere that works for everyone? That stops kids from feeling stressed and just gives them the opportunity to breathe whilst also teaching them about the real world. Too many people say kids these days have things far too easy, but I couldn't disagree more. Teachers are constantly telling kids that their grades matter and I'm here to tell you that they don't. I get that in some cases they may matter but a lot of that is a short-term issue and the vast majority (if not all) of job adverts state you just need a minimum of five C grades at GCSE. You don't need to spend hours revising to try and get an A* as it will literally just be a letter on your CV at the end of it.

I've spoken before about how there are multiple other subjects that schools should focus on instead of a lot of the content they currently do. And even if they don't decide to focus on that stuff, they could at least make a start by putting an end to exams or trying to focus a bit more on coursework and a bit less on exams. I also think schools need to stop pushing this narrative that grades really matter because they really don't. I don't think they should tell kids to stop bothering as that's not what we're trying to achieve here. They should just encourage them to get the work done but not put too much pressure on themselves and let them know that if things don't work out exactly how they want them to, that's okay because they can always get to where they want to be; it just may take a tiny bit longer to get there.

What do you think? Do you agree that we should get rid of exams, either entirely or at least for the most part? Or do you think we should hold on to exams? Please feel free to let me know in the comments.

Alternatively, if there's anything else you want to talk to me about, or even if it's regarding this post, please feel free to drop me an email or send me a DM on Twitter or Instagram.

Should there be an end to exams?

Love Beth xx

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