Ensuring accuracy in the exam system - setting tests, marking and delivering grades

Oliver Dovey, Pupil, Guthlaxton College, Leicester

This is the direct transcript of a speech Oliver made at an event on 3rd July at a Westminster Education Forum event. 

Hi, I’m a student at Guthlaxton College in Leicestershire and I know this is under the heading of ensuring accuracy in the exam system, however being the only pupil here today, I believe it’s important that I get my opinion across of the whole examining system, and what I believe…. Because in a sense, without blowing our own trumpet, we are the most important people here today, the students, because what you are debating about will in the end affect me and countless others across the country, and I hope that what I say may help you come to a conclusion in the end.

One of my main concerns with the current school examination system, is the ever rising number of students attaining straight As and A*s at GCSE and A-Level. You are all probably thinking this should be a good sign and in theory must mean Britain is getting cleverer. However I don’t think this accurately reflects the abilities of people in education today. In my opinion the exam process in its current format of module exams and controlled assessments are becoming easier to pass with top grades. The current exam system devalues students grades with the consequence that it becomes impossible to single out the true achievers, students can no longer achieve outstanding grades because these are the norm. I’m of the opinion that schools and colleges have become nothing more than exam factories and endless targets focused upon schools by the Government have left teachers preoccupied with results and statistics and how these reflect on the school’s position in the league tables.

As we all know, statistics can be used out of context to demonstrate a positive picture when in fact things couldn’t be further from the truth. Students are taught little more these days than how to pass exams. Teachers have too many time constraints imposed upon them under the current exam system and are forced to stick to ridiculously narrow syllabuses. They have to use valuable lesson time to prepare students for controlled assessments and SATS exams, when this time could be put to better use teaching and providing opportunities for imaginative, thought provoking lessons and debate, which will develop independent thinking. Schools need to foster a love of learning and free up more time to allow teachers to pass on their passion for a particular subject.

A school’s primary goal should be to teach pupils to communicate effectively and articulately, pupils need to be taught to think for themselves and become more self reliant. Currently students are simply told what words such as assessment and evaluation mean and how to use them, it’s becoming a crime to answer a question innovatively because the fundamental lesson we are taught is how to tick the right boxes to get our A grade. It is important that we as pupils start to take an active role in our education, rather than being spoon fed.

Whilst exams are clearly important, they really should be an indicator of ability and with examination grades continuing to improve, year on year, I feel this is no longer the case. Universities are being flooded with applications from straight A students and unfortunately grades alone are simply not enough these days to secure a place at a top university. Students are feeling let down and disillusioned. Our current examination system does not prepare students for study at degree level and beyond, and we are failing them if we believe it does. Too many students are leaving university with second class degrees and inundating the job market where there are insufficient jobs to satisfy demand.

In addition, students are being let down by inaccurate and inconsistent marking and errors on exam papers. In some cases the exam boards are not following the syllabuses closely enough and have topics not covered, that are included in the final year papers.
I have had such problems only recently, having thoroughly revised the whole syllabus in a given subject and committed this to memory, I was surprised when there were key terms in the examination which haven’t been covered in the curriculum. I feel this is unfair as I had done everything possible to secure a high mark, only to realise this wasn’t enough and never would have been. I feel frustrated and disappointed by the whole situation and these issues are undermining students faith in the current exam system and in some case leaving students without necessary grades to on to Higher Education or to take up their first choice at university, resulting in the student having to go through the clearing or take an insurance place, simply because there have been errors and inconsistencies in the way in which their papers have been marked.

This could potentially ruin a student’s future career prospects and it is understandable that these situations are making students frustrated and worried for the future of education and the current exam system which clearly doesn’t seem to be fit for purpose.
In my opinion, more emphasis and support should be available within the school environment to support those who wish to pursue vocational careers and apprenticeships. These training routes are undervalued. Only those students who clearly showed true academic flair should be encouraged to go to university, examinations need to be more challenging and top grades should only be awarded to those who truly know their subject and have achieved a mark in excess of 90% in any given examination. Only when these issues have been addressed will we be able to separate the achievers from those less able, something the current system isn’t capable of.