It’s that time of year when children and parents are suffering the stresses and strains of exam time. Revision timetables; quotes and notes attached to mirrors and walls; exam dates circled in red on the calendar – it is a horrible time to be a 16 or 18-year-old.
For the parents it is equally difficult. There are no manuals that tell you how to behave at this time. There are no instructions to give a guide on how involved a parent should be; how cajoling; how strict. Inevitably this leads to rows, slammed doors and black silences at the dinner table as both sides struggle to cope.
On the darker, more serious side, examinations pressure should never be allowed to get so great that its leads to severe anxiety and mental health issues.
If there is any crumb of comfort to be offered at this time, it is that the examination period is a relatively short time in the whole grand scheme of things. It is also built up to be much, much more important than it actually is.
As a former teacher, I am qualified to say this. Exams are a means to an end but they are only one means to an end. If you don’t get the grades this time around, don’t panic – there are resits, there are second chances, there are even occasions when a dropped grade is overlooked because of other qualities that the student has shown.
It is also worth remembering that what exams are taken at the age of 16 or 18 become mostly immaterial once you have taken the next step. Once you start your ‘A’ Level course or your apprenticeship, what grade you got for GCSE Religious Studies becomes redundant. When you enter the world of work or go along to university, the only thing that your knowledge of the Repeal of the Corn Laws will be good for is the weekly pub quiz.
Not for one minute am I advocating not preparing for exams or not valuing exams for what they are – I am simply saying that they are one of life’s challenges to be faced but they are not the be all and end all. They are certainly not so important that families should fall out over them and, more importantly, young peoples’ mental health should not be at risk because of them.
Examinations offer a snap-shot of someone’s learning. On a good day a student will open the paper and see a set of questions that reflect the subject he or she has revised most thoroughly. On a bad day, the questions will be all about some topic that was taught back in September in the week half the class were struck down by flu. That’s how fickle exams can be, and that’s the balanced view we should take of them.