Yesterday was A-level results day, meaning thousands of very young adults enjoyed a near sleepless night, followed by a brief but severe panic, rounded off with either sweet relief or bitter despair. For all involved, it was the culmination of a stress-filled year in which most were convinced that their entire future hung on the outcome of two to ten hours in mid-May. That’s pretty messed up.
I can recall many happy experiences in my school years, particularly my time in Sixth Form. I at least vaguely enjoyed all of my classes, and after now seven years of doing the same subject with the same people I had a pretty tight bond with almost everyone I worked with. Because of this, I was essentially able to hang out with all of my friends basically every day, and that was great. I have memories from those two years that I will treasure forever. However, I also have plenty of less pleasant memories from that same period that rather mar the better ones. Memories of repeating the same theory over and over in my head for hours just to guarantee myself that I could remember it perfectly in any situation. Of stupidly late nights in an effort to cram just a little more work in. Of consoling friends having full-on breakdowns in school hours because it was just too much. All of that was because of exams.
Really, I was one of the lucky ones. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed exams, but I was able to cope with them. I made revision plans, stuck to them, then did exams with an attitude of ‘what will be will be’. I still do all that, in fact. But it is far from so simple for many. At this point, we have all witnessed a total mental collapse either prior or during an exam. And quite honestly, this is the real problem with exams. They are inherently unfair. Some people are far more capable at dealing with the sort of stress they produce than others, and therefore do better come results day. This is not a fair representation of intelligence, or competence in a subject. All it really shows is how much stress effects a person, which is interesting and all, but not what exams are supposed to be testing.
This is especially frustrating when the superior alternative to exams is already around, but just underutilised. Coursework is superior to exams at actually testing knowledge in a subject area in almost every way, especially at higher levels. Sure, coursework allows students to find new information while doing their test, but simple facts are hardly the real challenge in most subjects, especially post-GCSE level. Coursework is also much more representative of tasks and challenges in the world of employment; a boss is much more likely to request you utilise your knowledge and research skills to manage a project than sit you down and demand you answer random questions about your area of expertise for an hour.
Coursework promotes skill in time-management, research, and the topic at hand, all while being far less directly stressful and unfair than exams. It is just better.
Of course, for some areas exams are still necessary. Maths coursework, for example, would be tough to organise. But exams currently are extremely overused, not particularly useful, and extremely mentally damaging for many people taking them. They need to be cut back.