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Let's examine exams

In my day I sat less exams than my parents. For year 11 I only had one sit down exam, everything else was graded through continual assessment, which was then the new buzz word and being piloted at my school. The problem was that exams were not phased out completely and with less of them, I was less practiced in how to take them. When I took my exams in year 13, before heading to University, I was back to having to learn two years worth of work for one exam, all or nothing for the exam based A levels.

Exams cause stress!

You need to guess what you are going to be asked and then, without the aid of a spell check and Google, put pen to paper to provide an answer.

I know my eldest struggled with her writing, meaning she needed to be more creative when answering the questions, using words she could spell to make sure her answers made sense. When I asked her how her Physics exam had gone she said she was not sure as she felt she should have written more as there were one and a half pages available to write on but she only used one of them.

As an adult I could make a guess that they provide plenty of space to allow for mistakes, and different sized handwriting, but in a stressful test situation would I have been panicked by my one page answer, like my daughter? Possibly.

In maths my youngest preferred to just write the answer, rather than bothering to show how she had worked out the question. I tried to explain that writing down the calculation was good practice as it gives you the chance to check the sum at the end. Also in exams you may get points for using the right process, even if you make a slight figure error. She was not convinced. She felt that with the time pressure of an exam that she would rather try and answer as many questions as possible.

For my A level Biology exam, a subject I really enjoyed, I fell foul to poor exam experience. I had been told to read the questions first, but when you have a time limit you feel the pressure. I had a choice of two questions so I read the first part of both, and got stuck into the one I felt I could answer. Then came part two, and I was not so sure of my answer for this bit, but I had already committed to this question so kept on going. It was not until I had run out of things to write that I read the second half of the question I had decided against. The question was all about the Kidney, something we had been focusing on all term! I had chosen the other question because I could answer the first part, worth 20%, and then went on to make up my answer for the 80% part. I scrapped a pass, but would have done so much better had I read the questions properly!

Even though I did talk to my children about exam technique, my eldest admitted that she still made mistakes, due to the stress of the situation. Questions were not read properly and answers were noted on the wrong papers!

Fortunately she worked out where she had gone wrong, before the marks were released, which I felt was good, as not knowing why you lost marks is a lot harder to live with.


During the run up to the exams I was very impressed with the effort that my eldest put into her revision. She created flash cards, drew pictures on our wipe board and planned out her study dates. She would draw diagrams with removable labels and ask us to help her revise by asking her questions. She knew that she needed time for information to sink in, and for her writing out the cards and then reading through them, in bite sized chunks, was more manageable and effective than re-reading a text book.

My youngest was not as studious in her revision technique. In fact I had to ask her to create a revision plan. She did, but without taking into consideration anything else going on in her life. Every morning she had down that she was going to study her least favourite subject, at a time she was still usually asleep!

Anyone with more than one child knows that they are all individuals, and this was definitely the case with mine.


It was pointed out to me that in our current world, everyone who can access the internet, can access an education, a far cry from the days when only the rich learnt to read and had access to books. This means that learning is changing. It is now more about knowing where to look, and how to sift and sort through the mix of content to decide that which is worth your time, and that which is based on assumptions, than it is about memorising content.

Failure is not great, but nor is it the end of the world. Your child will take in what they feel has worth, and forget the rest, just like you did. There is still a lot of learning to take place, and a formal education is no longer a sole pursuit of the young.

If your child has some upcoming exam revision time, then support them with the revision process, and test them on their exam technique. The rest is up to them.

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