Are exams a fair way to measure intellect? – NCS grad, Patrick

ncs 24/05/2019

Ah, exam season. Who’s having fun? Yeah… well, it got us thinking and we posed a question to our grads, “Are exams a fair way to measure intellect?” Here’s Patrick’s response.

We’re in that season we never look forward to... Defining our life and career track with an exam – is it worth it? Is it right? Are there any other ways to progress where we can avoid exams, and still be successful? For GCSEs, unfortunately, I don’t think so. We’ve just got to get on with it. But, it doesn't mean we can't give it a little tweaking...

We’ve heard stories of successful people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates who dropped out of college and are now some of the most influential and richest people in the world. Robert Downey Jr. was never a college graduate and used to be a drug addict – now, he’s one of the best-paid actors in history! World-renowned, Ed Sheeran wasn't academically successful either. 

It just goes to show that we can pick ourselves up and make something of the situation we are in. We shouldn’t rely on luck, nor a single exam season to define our careers.

We can’t allow our exams to define who we are and what we're going to be. Exams can only measure one or two aspects of our intellect, and the fact that we can only take them once, or once a year, is very distressing and rather annoying. A bad day, or (god forbid) an unforeseen circumstance such as illness or the passing away of someone important to you, can affect your full potential at these crucial times. As a teenager and an aspiring psychologist, I do NOT believe a single exam season concluding five years of secondary education is healthy.

We all have different capacities and specialities that we will continue to develop as we move into the world of work. Not everyone is good at written assessments, but they could be a genius in terms of arts or sport. Coursework could be reintroduced as a key contributor to the final grade. Other elements of schooling could also be taken into account, even if they cover a very small percentage – could punctuality, character and recognition for effort be considered?

Alternatively, how about an annual exam season where you conclude your secondary school experience with an average score? Instead of doing just one year of exams, we could do four or five, advocating a more holistic way to measure our abilities. It’s also less stressful and scary as it distributes the pressure over a longer period of time. 

Additionally, it's statistically sound! In order for an experiment to be deemed ‘reliable’ scientists should repeat methods multiple times and find the average result with standard deviation – doing an experiment just once can raise questions about the data reliability. 

I don't see why we can't do it here in the UK. It may be due to the costs, but when a significant number of our generation are stressed about it, is it still the most economical and socially desirable option? 

Moving on to further education, a friend of mine opted out of university to kick off his career as a programmer and android developer after A-Levels. Eric chose hard work and experience rather than formal qualifications. 

In the midst of finishing our A-Levels he is already receiving offers from developers and programmers all over the UK due to his experience and awards (he achieved first place in Essex Digital Awards after competing against established companies who have more experience and qualified programmers). Even Apple and Google have waived the qualification rule for their new employees, giving more credit to experience than qualifications. 

This doesn't mean you shouldn't go to university, as other industries are obviously different. BUT, exams and formal qualifications (as much as we stress their importance) are not the only way to achieve your goals. There are many ways around it. After all, your CV is just a piece of paper. Remember, what's most important is who you are as a person.