As of the 20 March, GCSE and A-Level exams were cancelled for students alongside the closure of all schools, apart from those open to the children of critical workers and vulnerable children. In light of this, Ofqual — an independent qualifications regulator — will be working alongside the exam boards to create a fair process so all students get the grades they deserve in spite of no exams.
This cancellation has made me question if exams are really the best way to examine our students? And if not, is it possible that the system may change once we return to a sense of normalcy?
Are end of year exams a good idea?
Everyone knows how stressful GCSEs and A-Levels are on our students. They are incredibly stressful and the mental health of students always takes a hit during the exam period. It’s sometimes more difficult to do well in examinations when you know that your entire future depends on the results that emerge. The amount of pressure we put on our students is insurmountable.
Consequently, this may have contributed to why after last year’s A-Level results day, it was revealed that the number of As and A*s awarded that year dropped to its lowest in over a decade. Only 25.5 per cent of A-Level grades in 2019 were As and A*s. This could suggest that our current system is ineffectual, for so many reasons.
One of the biggest problems I have with A-Level exams is how little they prepare you for university life. Particularly with the essay subjects more often than not, students aren’t being taught how to write well-argued essays. Instead, they are taught how to answer a mark scheme which doesn’t help them when they enter university and can’t write analytical essay assignments.
Is reform a possibility?
Before the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK the way it has, discussion on reform had begun. The Office for Students (OfS) started a major review of the higher education system on 27 February 2020. They were asking for the perspectives of students, teachers, colleges and universities on a range of issues about the current system. They outlined three different possible reforms in their consultation that may or may not occur depending on the evidence collected. These are:
- Keeping the current system the way it is with a few tweaks
- University offers made to students after they receive their A-Levels/equivalent qualification
- Students would register interest in certain universities but they would wait for their results before completing their applications.
Although none of these options considers eradication of exams, it does indicate a potential reform of the higher education system as we know it. It shows that the opportunity for change could be upon us. After the cancellation of exams, discussions may go in another direction and consider making that permanent.
I believe that there is a possibility for reform depending on how well things work out for this year’s students. I think it also depends on how we choose to perceive this; as a curse or an opportunity to change things. Only time will tell which outcome proves true.