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Exams: Not Exactly Enjoyable But Neither Are They The Enemy of Education

Exams: Not Exactly Enjoyable But Neither Are They The Enemy of Education

The time of mock examinations is upon us. Year 13 IB students were the first through, right at the start of term. As I write, Year 11 are on their penultimate day, and the Year 13 A Level cohort will start their mocks on Monday. As always, the aim of these mocks is to give students a realistic taste of what is to come in the summer, without overstretching them, and with plenty of time to spare for marking, feedback and improvement, before the end of term and the crucial Easter revision period. I am once again grateful to our exams officer Mrs Ann Ellard who runs our GCSE and A Level mocks to the same high standards as the real exams. This is vital for students to get used to the routines and expectations that they will face in May and June.

Many students will experience some anxiety around exams, and this of course is where mocks are most useful – getting used to overcoming fears and worries, and performing to a high level under time pressure. Much is said nowadays about resilience or ‘grit’, and although I don’t subscribe to all the fashionable arguments, I do think that the exams arena is one where considerable improvement can be made, provided that our young people train themselves to use their nerves as a motivational tool, rather than letting themselves be defeated by them. House staff and tutors are the key people in helping students through this process, and, where mistakes are made, showing them the route to future error avoidance.

One seemingly abstruse question that I am occasionally asked is about the difference between GCSE and IGCSE, and which is ‘better’. You may have read a few weeks ago some press articles around accusations that IGCSE specifications (the ‘I’ stands for ‘International’) are somehow easier than GCSE ones, and that independent schools, who have the luxury of being able to choose them, are thus at an unfair advantage. The debate has subsided now, but for the record, I agree with Shaun Fenton, the current HMC Chair, and Head of Reigate Grammar School, that the guiding principles of specification selection are “rigour, reliability and relevance”, rather than chasing grades. You can read his article on this link and please do ask your child’s teachers at the next parents’ evening if you would like to know details of exam boards, tiering and so on.

So, I extend my very best wishes to all students sitting mocks this January, and to all parents and other family members supporting them at home. Exams aren’t everyone’s idea of fun, but school exams are very unlikely to be the last set of formal tests that students take in their lives, so my advice is to grasp the nettle, do your best, and learn from the experience.

Damian Henderson
Deputy Head Academic