Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Year twelve examinations

start this week with the oral examinations in various languages. After that there will be written examinations.
One of the local church halls is used as a venue. There are already notices up warning people of the fact that examinations are being held there and asking them to be particularly quiet. Does it make a difference? I don't know.
My experience with externally moderated examinations started at the end of my primary school years. We did an examination a bit like the English "11 plus" which decided what sort of secondary school we would attend. Of course in some places there was no choice but it still decided whether you went into the "PEB" or "Area" stream.
PEB stood for the Public Examinations Board stream and Area meant the rural-agricultural/commercial stream. The PEB stream led to university, teacher training college etc.
We did a series of external exams. The first lot came at the end of our third year in secondary school. As country students we did our exams in our own school but thousands of city students had to go to the Showgrounds where they sat in the big halls. It was often hot,  very hot. I hate to think what sort of effect the heat and the surroundings had on the performance of some students.
There were just three hours to show what you had managed to learn (or not learn) during the year. Rural students were often at a serious disadvantage. Their teachers had not been able to benefit from the meetings their city colleagues had to discuss what might be in the papers and what they should be concentrating on.  I remember one occasion on which a physics paper had an entire section which had not been covered by rural schools at all. My father made frantic phone calls to the head office to find out what was going on. In the nick of time he had instructions for the students to ignore that section and do something else. It was, as he put it later, entirely unfair on the students.
The Whirlwind will soon have exams as well. Her school is sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that having them is still a good preparation for having to face them at year 12 and post-secondary level.
Although she does extremely well she does not like exams. I fear I have not been much help in that respect. I hated exams. I went on hating them right up to and including the last one I did. I had nightmares for years afterwards that I had failed that exam in Constitutional Law. (No, I passed.)
Despite that I have been looking at old exam papers and "practice answers" for several students recently. Some of it seems so simple now.
"Compare and contrast...." "Discuss..." "Outline the reasons for...." "Show how..." The instructions tell you what to do.
But then I remember my teenage self with all the doubts and anxieties (compounded by problems of getting it down on paper in my case) and I can only sympathise madly with these students. It doesn't matter how well you know your work or how much work you have put in there is always the fear of misreading the question, of not dividing your time up etc.
Perhaps exams are rather like democracy - we just have not yet invented a better way of doing things.  


Helen Devries said...

We were so lucky in having a teacher who taught us how to read an exam paper and how to respond to the rituals of compare and contrast.

Philip C James said...

Hold the exams in the Church instead of the Church Hall? People talk in hushed tones in Church (so as not to disturb ghod as he's sleeping) and you might be divinely inspired...

catdownunder said...

I sometimes wonder what gets taught Helen...
Philip, I suspect that the Supreme Being would take the same attitude as my father "I hope you do as well as you deserve to do..."