Stop Hating On Exams

(partly because it’s too easy to get annoyed about – like getting angry at UKIP, it’s way too mainstream)

Howdy folks, my blogging holiday is now over – and a very productive holiday it was, with me completing seven timed papers for my exams this summer – and so I’m ready to start wasting my precious free time by bitching about stuff beyond my control, like  a depressingly self-aware monkey is a zoo lamenting the fact that his life’s high point will be finding a spot in his enclosure to have sex that’s not full of gawping humans on the other side of the glass, on a blog on which around 99.9% of its viewers consists of sexually-depraved Geographers! Hooray for the freedom of speech!

A friend of mine wrote a very intelligent piece about exams and their general suckiness here, displaying all of the critic-quoting, elegant sentence-writing and header-formatting I can only dream of, and I would like to respond to it in the Chris Crocker school of ‘leave x alone’.

Essentially, exams are a means to an end, not an end themselves. They are the process through which we must pass to move on to higher education, either at college or university, and one of Nathan’s points in his post was that exams are not representative of the study they claim to be associated with as a result; because we need to rote-learn a bunch of quotes from a text, the emphasis is on the rote-learning, not the text, and so that text becomes a stepping stone to others, rather than something to be admired and studied itself.

And while this sucks for English and History, where all the fun of human culture, from Shakespeare’s comedies to the meme-worthiness of Joseph Stalin, is sucked out in favour of mark schemes and God-forsaken assessment objectives, the exam model fits perfectly with economics and science, where the exams are very much a means to an end. For medics, exams are the means by which they obtain the qualifications necessary for their career, and for economics, exams give them some of their credentials to work in large businesses. There is less of an insight into humanity and its culture to be gained from these subjects, so they don’t mess around trying to emphasise their topics as any more than they are: they are ways to get mad cash in the future, and that’s it.

Exams are further justified in the importance of services such as economics and medicine in our society: without doctors, we would die, but without writers, we might be a bit bored. As a result, it’s no surprise that our education system, especially the coursework-free compulsory bit of it, is a more accurate representation of the jobs needed these days.

Furthermore, there is, sadly, more process involved with becoming a doctor than a writer. You cannot be a doctor without a crap-load of school qualifications, regardless of your composure and Surgeon Simulator-honed steady hands, whereas to be a writer, you largely need the skill itself, not the bits of paper that say you have it; fancy academic talents aren’t a bad thing to have as a writer, but bear in mind that JK Rowling has one bachelor’s degree, far less than even the most unsuccessful of doctors will need. As a result, the means by which we acquire those papers – exams and education – are geared towards giving the necessary papers to those that, fundamentally, need them more.

Even so, exams aren’t totally unsuitable for more artistic students; the annual structure of exams, with several months of lessons and gentler work, followed by two months of ‘OHMYGODIHAVEDEADLINESARGHH!’ mirrors that of the publishing world quite well, as a writer will, normally, spend the majority of a year collecting ideas and writing drafts, before pulling a week of all-nighters to send the final draft to a publisher by a certain deadline. And this means of writing works for every kind of book – novels, histories, economic analyses – whether they’re associated with English, History or Economics as a school subject.

And while the two-month wait for results is heart attack-inducingly stressful, and has the potential to derail a year of carefully-laid university accommodation plans, the grade boundaries change every year based on the roll of a dice, and mark schemes appear to be drafted and moderated by groups of illiterate cudgel-wielding child-bashers with the intellectual capacity of a jar of gherkins, the alternatives seem to consist of controlled assessments, even more coursework, or the glory days of University acceptance being based on birth right, gender, ethnicity and general possession of a stiff upper lip. I know exams aren’t perfect, but they’re really not that bad.


Nathan Liu – Revising Revision



2 thoughts on “Stop Hating On Exams

  1. Do you not think with the existence of Google and textbooks, that exams become pointless because in the real world you have access to them, and you aren’t being constantly tested based solely on memory.

    1. I think exams are less relevant in terms of rote-learning stuff, because we can look it up, so I think education should be more focussed on skills that you can’t learn in five seconds off Wikipedia. It would be more useful to spend a year learning how to write an essay, rather than the current system of learning quotes for nine months and then a bit of exam technique at the very end.

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