Taking exams can be stressful - I don’t think anyone would argue with that. However, fans of exams strongly believe that not only do they motivate someone to study but that they are also a fair way of assessing what a student does or doesn’t know.
Despite this, even the fiercest of advocates for exams has to acknowledge that some students just don’t perform well in high pressure environments. A student could be very intelligent and a hard worker, but they might become anxious when sitting exams or just have an off day, due to factors outside their control.
There is also a real danger that when taking exams, students will cram and that they’ll learn just enough to pass the test, but then forget everything they’ve learned shortly afterwards. When students only focus on passing the test, and only memorizing the material, this completely defeats the purpose of school. Despite their best intentions, sometimes assessment tasks are set which encourage an approach to learning that emphasizes recall only at the expense of critical thinking and real understanding. An emphasis on memorizing facts alone can lead to a lack of understanding on how to apply the knowledge; therefore it does little to develop students’ critical thinking skills. This problem can be addressed by using ongoing formative assessments, as well as exams, to test a student’s knowledge.
Studies have shown that assessments are an effective way of not just measuring what a student knows but they also allow teachers to check on the progress students are making. This gives them the chance to offer students more support, guidance, and opportunities for them to constantly improve during the course. After all it’s much more useful to know you’re doing something wrong before you sit an exam, than when you are staring at the results.
Assessments that take place over the course of a year can come in many different forms such as assignments, presentations and tests. Because of the variety of styles used, they allow teachers and examiners to witness a fair representation of individual students’ capabilities whilst catering for different learning styles.
Australian schools saw the benefits of a move away from exclusively exam focused learning a number of years ago. The Australian curriculum requires that a variety of testing methods and benchmarks are used to assess students levels of understanding on the topics covered. This means that a student’s progress is being tracked and evaluated over the course of the whole year.
It seems other countries are now also choosing to examine their own approach to learning. Neighbouring Singapore has announced it will be reducing the numbers of exams taken in primary and secondary schools. And right here in Malaysia school Years one to three will no longer sit any exams, to make way for a clearer focus on a child’s learning development.
As well as a move away from exam focused learning, students at Australian schools also reap the long term benefits of the applied learning approach. Applied learning is an educational approach in which students are able to apply what they’ve learnt in the classroom to real life situations. Not allow does This allows them to develop a deeper understanding of the course materials, it also allows them to gain life skills that are valued by employers because learning can take place outside of the classroom, they also get to try different potential career paths in the process.
Exam time can be a testing one in many households, which is just one of the many reasons why teachers at the Australian School in Malaysia are firm believers in the Higher School Certificate or HSC approach to learning. Unlike the other pre-university forms of assessment, with the HSC the final marks are made up from 50% school based assignments, exams and projects, and the remaining 50% from an external exam.
At AISM we firmly believe that although it is impossible to avoid exams altogether a split between 50% final exams and 50% ongoing assessments is a much better balance. It allows our teachers to teach according to your child’s needs, rather than teaching just to pass a test. In our experience this encourages both consistency and hard work.