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Scrap exams, prepare for the real world

In the midst of my packing as I prepare to cram all my belongings into a 65L backpack and cart myself off to the other side of the world in less than eight weeks, I came across a crumpled-up envelope tucked away in my closet.

To my surprise, it was my old NCEA exam papers, which – for some reason – I thought it would be a good idea to keep.

As I skim-read through these past exam papers, I was taken back to this time four years ago, and having to wait in a cluster outside the school gym with other anxious students as they read over their revision notes and listened to the less-prepared students asking, “Does anyone have a spare scientific calculator I can use?” or “Who wrote the story of Anne Frank” [yes, this did really happen].

I remember my hands were clammy as I waited for my NZQA number to be read out by the teacher – an “I volunteer as Tribute” moment from the movie ‘The Hunger Games’.

I dreaded exams, I remember thinking to myself during my last college exam that I would never do any again – a promise that remains true to this day.

Exams, for me, didn’t feel like a milestone to be ticked off; instead, they felt like a hoop that had to be jumped through.

I should count my lucky stars that I was a part of the first wave of university students affected by covid-19 in 2020.

My lecturers decided to change all my end-of-semester exams to assignments or, if they were extra thoughtful, increase the weighting on each assessment.

Anyway, my rediscovery of those exam papers made me think sympathetically about the tens of thousands of secondary school students who last week kicked off their NCEA exams, an overly drawn-out process that is undoubtedly essential to measure how individuals perform under pressure but pretty questionable regarding what else it usefully measures.

Data from a survey by Inspiration Education Limited of nearly 6000 students showed that in 2017 two-thirds of Kiwi secondary students identified stress and anxiety about assessments as a challenge to learning, while about half believed that they were not taught how to study or deal with exams [and add to the stress last Friday, NZQA’s digital assessment platform reached capacity after 18,000 students logged in, and access to the platform was therefore denied to other students, resulting in a rush to hand out paper-based exams].

Let’s face it, an exam doesn’t tell teachers whether a student has aced the skills taught throughout the year, it shows they’ve aced the skill of sitting and doing an exam through memorising information.

I used to revise material in the 24 hours leading up to my exams, only for it to be forgotten the following week.

Those who don’t perform well in exams may bear the unfair stigma that they are unintelligent, which can be detrimental to a young person’s self-confidence.

When a young person decides to enter the workforce, employers won’t make them complete a task with no resources, internet, or help from others.

Instead of congratulating students on how well they do with written communication and memorising information, we should be accurately measuring their full abilities through internal assessments that provoke creativity and connectivity.

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