STUDENT BLOG: Is it time to re-examine our exam system?

Sixth former ANTHONY LEE reports on those who have made a success of their lives despite dropping out of school - and asks if the time has come to re-examine our exam system

RIPON Grammar School is renowned for its good exam grades - but is that all that matters?

Exam scores are often used to judge academic and personal success by teachers, parents and the media, but they only reflect a specific skill set, and there is so much more to education!

There are plenty of examples of people who have achieved great things in life without the external recognition of exam results, such as Oscar-winning Quentin Tarantino, who dropped out of school at 15 years old, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the greatest physicist of all time, Albert Einstein, who left school at 15, Al Gore, former vice-president and renowned environmentalist, Steve Jobs, Deborah Meaden, Lord Sugar, to name but a few.

These stories - all famous names covering a wide range of professions – don’t mean to say that being a high school dropout will earn you global fame as well as more money than you know what to do with.

Many of these people knew the route they wanted to go down, had carefully considered their options, and made a life-changing decision accordingly. This is of the utmost importance.

So how do people go on to succeed? It all depends on the determination of the individual. A hardworking person has a good chance at succeeding in life due to their work ethic.

Are there any positives to receiving lower grades than you were expecting? The main advantage is the opportunities it can give, allowing someone to look for alternative routes in life and opening up new opportunities, which may very well be more suited to their style of learning and skills. Some may discover a route they never came across in school.

As students at RGS we are given a huge variety of information about post-18 choices. It is easy to feel that university is the traditional route but there is so much more out there including apprenticeships, gap years and volunteering.

Education is important, and education will also open doors and opportunities, however many organisations are looking for experience and life skills.

Regardless of the route taken, what’s most important is staying on track and working towards a goal, whether it is small or large. Having a target will move you forward in life, to a life of success.

Time to re-examine our exam system?

Many students focus on the topic of achieving good grades from primary school and those in a prestigious selective school like Ripon Grammar School are, no doubt, all striving to reach their own personal potential.

But I wonder if this part of our education system is flawed. There are so many more opportunities in life that await students than the exam results which we spend so much of our youth striving towards.

Grades are awards given to students for achieving a certain threshold on their exam. Although it can be seen as the most efficient, effective and fair way to judge an individual’s capabilities, I believe there are many flaws in our ‘end of year exam’ system.

Firstly, it cannot be seen as an ‘end of year exam’ for students. Year 10 and Year 11 exams involve application of knowledge accumulated from Year 7 onwards.

Students will have been preparing for their Year 11 (GCSE) exams – the results of which will also dictate their sixth form placements - for more than four years.

Year 13 exams will decide the options the student has after sixth form, whether it is university, apprenticeship, gap year, or employment.

Despite the long period of learning being assessed, everything depends on exams taken over a short period.

An individual’s entire life in education will be measured over the course of a few weeks. This is less than one per cent of 13 years of school, yet it accounts for nearly 100 per cent of evidence of learning.

This flaw was highlighted when Covid-19 prevented the 2020 exams. Students and staff had always been expecting one set of exams to determine their final grade. With everything up in the air, the controversial algorithm the government initially used reduced almost 40 per cent of A-level grades awarded by teachers.

With a system this fragile, I think the time has come to re-examine our highly flawed methods of assessment.