‘School exams’ is a word that has started to do the rounds amongst our Year 6 and 7 pupils. As the whispers get louder, and the questions about revision more frequent, it’s worth stopping to think about the value we place on internal exams and assessments.
My view of school exams (as opposed to public exams like Common Entrance (i)GCSEs, A levels) is that their principle function must be a formative one. That is to say that – cliché alert – they ought to be more about process than product. Yes, we want pupils to take exams seriously; yes, we want them to work hard; and yes, we encourage them to see exams as important and worthy milestones, but there must sit alongside this sense of importance a sense of balance and perspective.
Pupils in Years 1 to 4 will be taking in-class assessments during lesson time the week after next (see Mr Bartlett’s letter). These are low-key, revision-free check-ins with their progress in English and Maths. As Mr Bartlett explains, the results of these are used to help us refine our provision to the pupils and to make sure that we have a fully clear picture of how we can best serve each of our young learners. In Years 6 and 7, pupils will sit more formal exams (Mr Bartlett has sent through the timetable) covering each of their subjects.
The forthcoming school exams to be sat by all pupils in Year 6 and 7 are a chance to practise revision techniques and exam skills, to review them, to refine them, to throw them out and start all over again. They are a chance to get to grips with the revision process, with what works for you (and what doesn’t), and a chance to have a crack at putting in place a solid and structured programme of recapping and preparing. They are a chance to learn, perhaps the hard way, that steady and conscientious work throughout the year serves you better than obsessive cramming; and a chance to be exposed to (and, with help, respond appropriately to) some stress, some pressure, and some anxiety.
Whilst it is absolutely right that pupils should want to achieve good results in their exams (and I stress here that achievement in these things is absolute rather than relative), I also spend time encouraging the children to consider these results as just part of their year’s worth of learning. I have been known to ask a very anxious pupil what it is that is causing him so much anxiety about exams; what is he afraid will happen if it all goes wrong? What would happen – actually – if he were to mess up horribly most of his (say) end-of-Year-7 exams? The answer is that he would carry on into Year 8 with everyone else, but with the experience of having fouled up, of having got things wrong, of knowing that some new techniques will be needed next time round. And that’s it. Because there is a next time. And that’s the perspective I want our pupils to have as they go about their revision.
As for balance: woe betide the pupil who tells me that they are going to have to give up their activities/stop playing cricket/take a break from their music group/spend each lunchtime in the library because of their revision! Good emotional health, resilience and a rounded-and-grounded approach is what we’re after, and that’s why continuing with clubs and societies and continuing to socialize and have fun whilst also getting on with some revision is so important.
I talk a lot about balance and perspective, and they are two words which I would certainly shout from the rooftops even more loudly as exams begin to appear on the horizon. Should the family abandon all weekend and evening plans for the sake of revision? No. Should they support their child in finding ways of working some structured revision time into those plans? Yes.
Internal school exams are an important part of the educational journey, but they are neither the destination nor our reason for travelling. They exist to prompt, not to define. And they are a really good chance to practise – whether as a pupil, a teacher, or a parent – getting the balance right.