Why I like Exams

Students in Years 11 – 13 work toward achieving highly-regarded international qualifications: The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) offered by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) for Year 11 students; and the IB Diploma awarded by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) following a two-year programme of study in Years 12 and 13.

While modern providers of international qualifications like CIE and the IBO use a range of methods to assess students’ knowledge, skills and abilities; formal, written examinations remain at the core of their assessment schemes. In recent years examinations have moved away from narrowly assessing memory and recall of facts. Modern exams are designed to recognise, reward and encourage student learning. They require students to demonstrate broad and deep subject knowledge, and to apply transferable skills, critical thinking and problem solving. 

Recent research into brain function has produced evidence that studying for and sitting exams actually deepens student learning. Just as exercising increases muscle strength, so the process of reviewing, revising and processing previously learned information in preparation for exams, strengthens memory pathways for future uses. Thus sitting examinations can enhance what students know.

The Oxford dictionary defines an examination as ‘a formal test of a person’s knowledge or proficiency in a subject or skill’. The Semester 1 exams and the Term 3 mock exams held at AIS are exactly that – formal, summative assessments. We understand that there are occasions when a student cannot sit an examination due to circumstances such as illness or bereavement. When this occurs in external examinations such as IGCSE or IB, the examinations cannot be sat at a later date. The same policy applies for Semester and Mock examinations at AIS. If a student misses an exam they are not re-scheduled. Students are recorded as ‘Not Assessed’ for reporting purposes. This is not a slight on their academic record. It is simply an indication that the student concerned was not able to sit the examination for legitimate reasons.

There are important philosophical reasons as to why missed exams are not held at a later date. Uppermost of these is fairness. To have a student sit the same assessment at a later date – sometimes several days later under very different conditions from the scheduled exam – or sit a different assessment altogether, is not fair to all those students who sat the assessment at the scheduled time. This policy is common throughout secondary schools around the world and is applied by national and international examining bodies.

In the week following the Tet holiday, Year 11 and 13 students sat their second set of formal examinations for the year. There is no doubt that students find sitting examinations challenging, and even stressful. But there is also no doubting their value. Our Mock exams are organised and staged on the same basis as the end-of-year IGCSE and IB exams. They provide our senior students with an invaluable opportunity to both experience the ‘look and feel’ of the formal, external examinations, and to gauge their academic strengths and weaknesses on a subject by subject basis as they begin the lead-up to, and make their final preparations for, the all-important IGCSE and IB exams.