One of our pupils just finished his A levels. He studied the music of the 1970s, Scandinavian culture, Eurovision and outlandish fashion…. What grades did he get? A,B,B,A.
And so it ends, with a week of fancy dress and some letting off steam before the exam season gets going. Tonight, there will be a ball, laid on by our sixth form team, admin and support colleagues and the indefatigable BSPS This morning there was a special breakfast and in between it all a few last words of wisdom. The final advice has been given and Year 13 move into the exam season proper.
During the Spring Term both Year 11 and Year 13 pupils enjoyed their normal lessons, but as this moment of exam leave has crept ever closer there has been a subtle change as week-by-week teachers transitioned to ‘exam preparation mode’. This is a sad necessity, and with it sees a slight departure from our routine academic ethos. Normally, we would want to avoid the ‘do we need to know this for the exam?’ type mentality, and revel in that process of learning our subjects, simply for the intellectual joy that it brings. That changes in the exam term. We now find ourselves embroiled in a tactical game, allied with the pupils, against an exam board opponent. Whether it be “how exactly do you write a ‘six-marker’?” or “what mnemonic can we use to remember the names of the alkanes?”, we narrow our focus on precisely what is needed for every possible question. This might sound reassuring, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Patience and discipline are required to set about the hundredth past paper question of the week with fresh energy and intelligence. This style of learning is not the most stimulating, but repetitive practice is good preparation for doing well at the final test. I think we need to acknowledge with the pupils that they’ve got a tough job to do.
Why do we push them to do well? For me, public exams be they GCSE or A level are about giving young people an opportunity to validate their efforts. I want them to learn how their careful planning, exhaustive practice, collaboration, creativity and simple hard work can materialise into something. On results day I want them to be able to reflect with pride that they did something positive for themselves. We ought to give them the best possible chance at experiencing that sense of purpose and subsequent reward. It’s not about whether they can remember the chambers of the heart, or quote accurately from Shakespeare, it’s about whether they have grown as learners and as people by the end of it. I hope that having this experience of a high-stakes moment in their lives will build their resilience and make them better equipped to tackle the next challenge, whether it be their A Levels, completing a degree, building a company, getting a job or training for a marathon – all of these things bring emotional rewards and psychological growth – their personal journey is what gives us the motivation to keep pushing them, not a string of numbers on a spreadsheet.
So as our pupils leave the warm embrace of the classroom for the more austere environment of the exam hall it is important that we praise the work that is done in preparation as heartily as the results that come from it. And should help be required in the meantime, it remains on hand in school.
I’d wish them good luck but I’m sure they won’t need it.