It has been exam week this week.  The whole of Main Prep went through revision week last week in preparation and spent the first three days of this week working through their exam papers.  The whole process can be quite daunting which is exactly why we put the children through it so regularly.  The thinking behind this is obviously that practice makes perfect and they learn to channel their nerves in the right direction and use this to help them to perform well and not to become over-confident.  A question I often ask myself, however, is just how fair a test is an exam?  Are we really able to assess every child’s ability by the way that he or she performs in exams?

One of my favourite cartoons shows an elephant, a bird, a monkey, a penguin, a goldfish, a dog and a seal facing a man behind a desk.  In the background is a tree and the man is saying to the assembled group, “For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam:  please climb that tree.”  A classic case of hyperbole to get a point across perhaps, but is there an element of truth in it?

Albert Einstein, who was dyslexic and had difficulty even remembering the months of the year, once said, “Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Not everyone will achieve high marks in their exams.  We should certainly celebrate with those who do, but it is equally important to recognise that not everyone’s brain works in the same way and to some people sitting exams in this way really is a challenge, as is mastering revision techniques.  I have always firmly believed that every single child in every school that I have worked in has the ability really to excel at something.  Our job, as teachers and parents is to find out what this is and then to give the child every encouragement and opportunity to develop this skill.  Time and again I have seen a child’s confidence and self-esteem rise because he or she has found something that they really are good at and that makes others sit up and take notice.  Invariably this success rubs off on other areas of school life and this is precisely why breadth of education is so important.

So we need to support those who find exams a struggle and work with them to find ways to tackle this challenge that will work for them.  Sometimes this requires a bit of lateral thinking, but we can get there.  It is also important to recognise that there are different forms of intelligence and scoring high marks in exams is just one example of this.  David Beckham may not be the first name many people would write down in their top ten list of academic scholars, but he is in the top 2% in the world when it comes to measuring spatial intelligence, a quality that is as important to pilots as it is to footballers!

Jerry Gear

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