Ah, exams.

I feel like I’ve been preparing for them my entire life, or at least, ever since I entered the seventh grade. Not just any exams, but one big series of exams in particular- GCSEs. My teachers in the various schools I’ve been to (three in four years-we move a lot) continuously bring the subject up at least once a lesson in hopes of scaring us students into burying our heads in books. As the word exams is mentioned again and again, questions change from being thought provoking to things like “how do I write what you just said (I’m not sure what it was, I’m just writing down everything you say so I don’t miss anything for the exams) so the examiner can understand what I’m trying to say? Of course, the importance of questions such as these and consequently, the importance of exams, cannot be underestimated. We are told the passing GCSEs with A*s and As will influence our A levels or IB exams, and go on our resume, which will be direct proof of our abilities to future employers.

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Passing exams with excellent grades are the key to getting jobs, which gives us money, which is essential to leading a good life (amongst other things). But at the same time, exams, of course, put a damper on the previously somewhat excitable atmosphere of the classroom. No one is interested in anything anymore unless it is going to be in the exam. Any extra information, which would have been eagerly lapped up back when we 14 and 15 year olds were younger and more free is meaningless now. The path of light rays in glass blocks (seemingly useless information) suddenly capture an enormous amount of attention, but are not discussed and debated at break times unlike black holes (which had nothing to do with what we were supposed to know, but rather extra information we extracted from a very passionate physics teacher after the lesson) only a few years ago. Subjects do not hold fascination anymore, and are not compelling and engrossing as they used to be.

Instead it seems like work you have to do every day to achieve a certain grade level. As the word exam is said more often as summer draws nearer, it feels like education is only necessary so you can pass exams, rather than teaching you about the incredible world we live in. The thirst for knowledge and genuine interest in subjects slowly diminishes as the importance of exams is slowly drilled into our heads, making school feel a long and unending path to exams and then more exams. Rather than help students see the bright side of education, teachers, and sometimes even parents, now respond to complaints of how unfair GCSE exams our by reminding students that life is now a downhill slope. GCSEs then IBs/A levels then university and then the “real world” which is “painful” and “unfair” and “has adult responsibilities”. Exams, exams, more exams, and then apparently a boring job which will make you reminisce about the “easy” and “fun” days of tenth grade.

How exciting. Tell me more. It is almost as if teachers feel that if they do not constantly remind us about exams at least once an hour, we will dismiss them as unimportant. Of course, there are many students who do not understand the cruciality of GCSEs and further exams to our futures. However, will the frequent use of the word “exam” really change that? Would it not be better to have a prolific speaker who is both cool and relevant to students these days (unlike the people who speak about the dangers of alcohol consumption who clearly despise alcohol-it KILLS!- but try to convince you otherwise) and know how to properly use slang terms to give a little talk about how he or she got their cool job and how exams were an important part of his or her journey? These kinds of talks really stick.

Remember that guy who came in and talked about how he managed to secure that amazing job ( war photographer, editor of a fashion mag, astrophysicist) from his competitors cos he had better grades? Of course I do! Wow! Exams are so important! I want that awesome job! I need to get good grades in exams? Okay! There. Done. No need for the E-word to be the first and last thing you hear in school. No need for students to primarily associate school with exams, rather than knowledge. Perhaps if students truly get captivated by the knowledge school has to offer, they will naturally retain more information, enabling them to get better grades.

Don’t we all do better in the classes which genuinely interest us? The ones which have animated, passionate teachers eager to spread knowledge about the subject that is so dear to them rather than the significance of exams? These classes, where you are learning to gain knowledge and not simply answers, inspire and challenge, and make class seem like, dare I say it, fun! They make you feel like you are leaning simply to learn, and not because you “have to” for the exams. Everything is always more fun when you don’t “have to” do it. Reading books about WW2, Shakespeare’s sonnets, experimenting with chemistry kits- all of it is more fun when you know you are not doing it for any other reason but to learn. As soon as WW2 appears on history exams, it suddenly feels like all this random stuff in the past you have to learn about so you can write an essay about it. Worse, you feel like this knowledge should only take up temporary space in your brain, as you are constantly told you need to know it for the exam. So after the exam, the general feeling is, you might as well forget it.

It doesn’t matter anymore; you will never take that subject again. You don’t see the beauty in what you learnt; all that information was simply a tool so you could get a letter on a piece of paper. Perhaps less of the “you NEED to know this or else it will ultimately result in you failing exams and therefore life” atmosphere would actually benefit the classroom. My favourite classes are not the ones where the word exams was repeated every few minutes, but the ones where I was genuinely enthralled by the topic. This led to me paying closer attention, and eventually, when I did sit down to take the dreaded GCSEs, this information stayed with me, unlike the information which we had written down in neat paragraphs “exactly how the examiner would like it”. I actually remember something from the classes which centered around information rather than exams.

Just a bit.