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The Three Rs V The Three Ws

Publishing Date : 11 May, 2015

Stuart White

Like many of you I have to admit it’s been a while since I had to sit an exam.  O-Levels, A-Levels, driving tests, end-of-course degree finals, add-on qualifications– at one stage in our lives they seem to come thick and fast.  And even though it’s a long way in the past, the experience and memories never completely leave us. 

I can still remember the weeks, days and hours of swotting; the burning of the midnight oil; the stomach-churning realisation that there were only hours left to go; the swirling thoughts of inadequacy and nagging doubts that wouldn’t go away – had we studied hard enough, learned enough, memorised enough?  Were we smart enough to pass? 

Could we bear the humiliation if we failed and had to re-sit?  And then the actual moment of truth, sat in the exam room, isolated in our own bubble, waiting for the signal to turn over the exam paper and begin, surreptitiously watching to see who in the room was out of the blocks first, then settling down, concentrating and focussing on your own test paper, desperate to set out all your hard-earned knowledge and finish within the specified time. 

And of course even when the exam was over and the paper turned in, it was far from over because then came possibly the worst time of all  - the agonising wait for results to come through, be it by mail or posted up on a college notice board, opening the letter with trembling hands or scanning the list for your name, fingers crossed that you’d made the grade.

It’s something that pretty much all of us have been through at one time or another because, let’s face it, ours is a very competitive world.  Even when you make it through the youthful examination phase in your life, the testing is far from over. 

Every job you apply for is another dog-eat-dog proving ground where you have to convince an individual, a panel or an entire board that you are the best man, or woman, for the job, that you have sufficient knowledge and experience for the post, that you are better than the next candidate, that you were top of the class and now you are the top dog. 

And once again you have the agonising wait to find out if you  were successful or whether it’s back to the Sits Vac page, whilst you deal with what feels like unfair rejection, replaying the selection processes again and again in your mind  to try and pinpoint where you went wrong, what you could have done or said better  and wishing you could re-sit the interview just as you were once able to re-take  an exam.

And the one thing that job interviews and exams have in common is that they are set up as a test of you and you alone.  You are not expected to bring along any physical tools or cheat sheets to assist you in passing the exam or landing the job. 

You are there to be tested on your personal smarts, on what you have learned, your ability to process that information,, the intelligence of your interpretation and your succinctness in laying it all out in a finite amount f time.  So how would  you react to the opinion of Mark Dawe, recently appointed head of OCR (Oxford, Cambridge & RSA) in the United Kingdom, the body which oversees A & A-level exams and testing, who caused controversy recently by saying he thought “Introducing tools like Google or calculators will help teachers assess the way students draw on information and apply it to their learning.”. 

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Dawe went on ““Everyone has a computer available to solve a problem but its then about how they interpret the results. We have tools, like Google, why would you exclude those from students’ learning? “Surely when they learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works…”

If you think this sounds vaguely familiar, think back to when the idea of using pocket calculators in exams was first mooted.  The argument was exactly the same – that they were a tool readily available outside the exam room that pupils would avail themselves of in real situations where mathematical calculations were required so why not bring them in to the exam? 

And of course the counter arguments remain the same – that the ability to properly use a calculator relies on a basic knowledge of mathematical principles and the exam sets out to test that knowledge, not the candidate’s dexterity with a miniature numerical keyboard and a mini computer doing all the working out for them. 

So when Mr. Dawe opines that outside of the testing centre, candidates can do a quick sweep of Wikipedia and other online information source sites so why not during the exam, the same objections arise – that they are not being tested on their surfing skills but on their accumulated and stored knowledge, stored in their head, that is, and not on the worldwide web.

If you think about it, there is no substantial difference to the idea of bringing textbooks into the exam than to calculators and iPods or laptops.  Don’t bother learning anything beforehand; just rather concentrate on learning where to find what you need to know. 

And of course that’s exactly what we do when we are not in an exam situation.  We use our min electronic tools, we hit the internet and we pick up books to accomplish tasks easier and faster, just as I surfed the net to find the full quote above from Mr. Dawe. 

But then again, I’m not being tested and I’m not sitting an exam because I’ve already been there, done that and got the qualification and it wasn’t an O-Level in calculator sums, an A-Level in surfing speed and a degree that reads Bwww.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  www.hrmc.co.bw



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