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Opinion by Alex Curthew-Sanders
Exams are getting harder and harder but is this increase in difficulty pinpointing the right areas?
It’s no surprise that school exams are getting tougher. After the move from the traditional A-F grading system into the new 1-9 system, the exams alongside them have been made more difficult. Previously only A-Level content being leaked into GCSE content as well as stricter time limits imposed while taking the exams had me wondering. At what point do we say, “this is difficult enough”. This question has been with me since I began Year 12 (the start of A-Levels) and has stuck with me to this day. But let’s narrow it down first.
Difficulty is very subjective, and while some may struggle with one question in an exam, others might find it easy. Preparation is often cited as the most important aspect in the runup to any exam, and this is said to often dictate which students find which question more difficult. Afterall, practise in one particular area will make that area a lot easier. There’s only one problem. Time.
Many of these exams have incredibly tight time constraints. So much so, that you have to wonder whether traditional revising is the best course of action when taking an exam. I beg to differ on this point, since I believe that no amount of revision would actually prepare anyone for any of the new exams. As much as they test your knowledge, they more so test your ability to apply that knowledge quickly above anything else. Valuing speed of thought over thorough thought. It’s in this department that I take issue.
When I took my A-level English language exams, the first paper had a 2 hour and 30-minute time limit. The first part of the exam consisted of reading through and analysing an unseen text and then proceeding to write a short essay on various components of the text. The text could be anything: an advert, a newspaper, a blog. To have enough time to write the essay, as well as move onto the next section of the paper, you were recommended to spend just 10 minutes reading and analysing the unseen text. Looking back in hindsight, it was completely ludicrous. 10 minutes to pick out inane features of a text to drone on about in what will amount to a meaningless essay is not, in my opinion, the best way to allow someone to demonstrate their ability to close read and be able to identify key features in a text.
It’s like offering someone who plays a lot of video games 10 minutes to play a game normally, and then tell them they need to complete the game in the next hour. It just doesn’t make sense from an intellectual standpoint. Why not just allow everyone a larger amount of time from which to work?
Which leads quite nicely onto how I believe this testing system as a whole could be improved.
Each test for any given subject would just have a longer time limit. It really is that simple. Give previously 2 and a half hour maths tests 3 hours or more, for example. Allow students to leave at any point during the examination once they’ve finished so that the people who aren’t able to work as quickly are still given a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. It feels like a real gut punch to know that you know what you must do but lack the ability to do it quickly. Especially since there aren’t many real-life situations where you’ll be asked to rush through potentially highly complex problems under a strict time limit.
A simple fix for a simple problem. But perhaps I’m missing the point, and so I’d implore you to think about exams you may have taken in the past where you felt the time you had to do it in was more of an issue than the content itself.