Eurovision and Exams

With a high-high-ho and a high-high-hey (Latvia’s pirate song in 2008, don’t ask) what Eurovision might teach us…

As Year 13 are Walking Out(1) for their study leave and the campus recovers from their Hawaiian shirted Storm minds inevitably turn to examinations. One simply can’t Look Away. It is cruel indeed that just as the weather takes a turn for the better we oblige our young people to hit the exam hall… mostly they Keep on Going. Whilst my university finals are the stuff of recurring nightmares not The Dream. In Truth I don’t remember much about the exams I took at sixteen and A levels are a bit of a blur. I also did a fairly obscure set of exams called S levels just before I left school, these I remember. Mainly because all my friends and Friend of a Friend had finished their tests and were enjoying an early summer holiday. One question in particular sticks in the memory after all those years – “Is Europe a useful historical concept?” I really enjoyed that question, not something that I can say about every exam I have sat. I do hope that at some point this summer our students find one of those questions that they believe is made for them and for a few minutes lose themselves in the sheer absorption of showing what they know.

exam chair

One concept of Europe that is Bigger than Us and indeed is ever expanding is that given by the annual Eurovision Song Contest which sees its grand final this weekend. Whilst I am less than enthusiastic about this musical shindig, I share a Home with a genuine Eurovisionophile. In the happy world of Eurovision the joys spreads from Iceland to Australia (and the most elastic definition of the continent ever seen). Indeed the smart money (Soldi) seems to be heading down under with Kate Miller-Heidke and her vertiginous performance of Defying Gravity (words really don’t do it justice).

Having been an unwilling witness to the semi-finals I believe that the Eurovision performers may well have something to teach our exam candidates. They, like a well prepared student know what is expected of them. The format is clear (who knew the rules for Eurovision specifies set dimensions and number of backing performers?) They have revised their performance with the utmost care so they Like It and their fate hangs on a single performance. As it is on stage so it is in the exam hall (with probably less dry ice). I believe that our pupils have been taught. They have certainly been working hard in the past weeks. They are Kings (Roi) of past papers by way of rehearsal and Replay. Now is the time to perform. Now is the time for them to Dare to Dream. I hope that following all this hard work stress levels do not get too great. If they do there are plenty here in school who can support. If our candidates can approach their task with the same joie de vivre that is demonstrated by those who sing and dance and play for their country in Tel Aviv this weekend then this will be a memorable exam season indeed, it will be a performance without Limits.

Exams are one way to unlock new opportunities. There are others. We live in an age when high stakes testing has become the norm for young people, they Run with Lions. I believe that exams are a useful way to assess ability, but not the only way. Happily this attitude is changing (like a Chameleon?) Perhaps we can devise a way in which we celebrate our academic skills and knowledge with the brio of a Eurovision Song Contest performer. Altogether now, Say Na, Na Na.

Nicholas Hammond


(1) All italicised words are song titles in the Eurovision Contest this year. Armenia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Belarus, France, Cyprus, The Eurovision slogan this year, Austria, Lithuania, Malta and San Marino. Apologies if I missed out your favourite!