Ms Sharrock does her best to convince SHS students that exams can be enjoyable.

Just before we broke up for the half term I was talking to one of the new Head Girl Committee and I suggested that I should do my assembly today on the joy of the exams and assessments given that most of the school would be embarking on end of year assessments.

Well that will be a short assembly she quipped – I laughed and concluded that yes she was probably right – and indeed I think this morning’s assembly is rather short. But whilst the arguments in favour of exams and assessments being enjoyable are somewhat brief, they are powerful.

Given that year 10 and 12 embark this morning on mock exams, 7-9 have end of year assessments and year 11 and 13 rejoin us this morning having completed their final assessments for GCSE and A Level, I am going to spend a few minutes this morning explaining why I think exams and assessments are good for us and can be enjoyable.

Whilst I would never want school to just be about exams or assessment it is an important part of what we do here and it is all about prep for life.

Life is full of tests and exams – even when you least expect it you will find yourself tested or assessed, and many of us love a test – we like to prove our skill, demonstrate our knowledge and be rewarded for our hard work.

Of course sometimes we have to take tests in order to be able to do something or access something  – driving tests, professional exams, finals at university, eye tests, even nationality –  if you want to change nationality you often have to take a citizenship exam about the country you wish to join.

And it isn’t just academic testing – we test ourselves with our music taking grade exams, we test ourselves through physical activity – triathlons, iron mans, marathons, couch to 5 km, climbing the three peaks, cycling to Lands End, competing with others in competitions to be the best.

For of course we recognise exams, tests and assessments as a fair way to compete – with both ourselves and each other.

And just look at the fall out when exams have to be cancelled – as they have been the past two years.

We have discovered that whilst there were many criticisms of the GCSE and A Level system of exams, they have proved very difficult to replace.  And most schools, ours included, have still provided some form of final assessment for their students to demonstrate their progress.   So here it goes.

Here is what I enjoy about exams:

The chance for solo endeavour – to show what you can do, to demonstrate your best.

The silence – so rare in life to work in total silence and it is a beautiful thing.

The atmosphere of silent productivity, the low hum of thought and problem solving, brains at work,

I love the blank sheet of paper – which fills up with all the brilliant ideas and answers just waiting to be drawn out of your beautiful mind onto paper.

I love working against the clock

The frisson of turning over the paper and seeing all the questions and beginning to dismantle them and work out what the examiner is asking.

All the things you’ve studied flooding back to you, things you’d forgotten you’d revised pop back into your head at just the right moment.

Your brain is literally firing on all cylinders, memory merging with creativity, intelligence and understanding.

Of course we’ve all had sticky moments in an exam when perhaps we have faced really challenging questions or struggled to recall something we know we looked at, or we haven’t revised quite as well as we should.

And certainly I can recall a few exams I just did not enjoy at all.

However even in a difficult exam there can be enjoyment in the challenge as we try to work out how to construct an answer.

Of course I appreciate that not everyone shares this enjoyment and that many find exams a source of anxiety.   Perhaps they struggle with memory, the organisation of their thoughts, minds go blank, working against the clock creates panic not motivation.

However these unpleasant experiences can be overcome with practice and mindful techniques to calm the mind – everyone, whatever their learning needs has the capacity to shine in an exam.   So practice and technique do matter.

Of course if you’ve done no work then exams and assessments are a lot less enjoyable.

I am assuming a certain amount of commitment and application.

Whilst you can wing it and that provides it own type of satisfaction, it is not something I would recommend.  If you have done no work then really an exam is a pointless exercise.

But for those who have worked and applied themselves – all those hours of graft – the test or assessment is a chance to show that off, not just a hoop to jump through but an opportunity.

All that hard work rewarded and a sense of earning your results.

Learn to enjoy exams and you remove much of the anxiety – you can’t of course remove the stress – that is part of the challenge but if you can embrace the challenge you will find them easier to navigate, you will do better and you might just learn to love them.

And what’s the worst that can happen? Perhaps you don’t do as well as you hoped, maybe you even fail – but you will learn and you will take the test again if it really matters.

Certainly many adults have at least 2 driving tests before they pass their driving licence.

Being tested can be both enjoyable and fulfilling.   And it is great training for life.

Good luck!

Jo Sharrock


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