The only people who think exams are the best method of assessment are those for whom it has benefitted.

It seems every year we have the same debate about academic assessment. And as the years pass by, the pendulum of fashion and trends swings one way or the other. People start to favour more inclusive assessment techniques, such as coursework and practicals, and then as that gains momentum, it swings the other way. That other way being towards rigid and draconian exam formats. 

Over the past year, we have witnessed the discourse around how we assess pupils’ achievements when sitting exams wasn’t deemed COVID-19 safe. The centralised algorithm didn’t go that well did it?  Then we talked about teacher assessment. That was criticised as teachers couldn’t be trusted. Well was a slap in the face wasn’t it? I get that it’s a conflict to mark one’s own work, but really?  Why can we not all settle on a sensible middle way, that combines different assessment techniques recognising and valuing everyone’s preferred learning methods and working styles?  That is true inclusivity and diversity. It is one way to achieve social mobility. 

After all, passing an exam is merely a technique.  It favours one style of learning, memory recall and the ability to write. Fans of the approach are those that can do it. Therefore, by that definition, it is exclusive. And let’s face it, those skills do not reflect the modern day workplace. When I am assessing a job candidate I don’t sit them in a silent, high pressure room, having hot housed them for five years prior, then expect them to naturally demonstrate their suitability.  Interviews are a combination of evidence, writing, talking, working things out, practical tests, and communicating in different ways with different people. I look for their abilities to connect, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, listen, support others around them, change, grow, and learn. Amongst many other things, all beyond what is on paper. 

I remember supporting a client years ago.  They were in trouble. And it was costing thousands. Their new recruit drop out rate was huge after only three months. This had been going on for years. There was clearly a recruitment problem.  I was asked to help with a new approach. I found, their problem boiled down to recruitment and selection being skewed towards selfish, autonomous, competitive behaviours at the expense of team work and support. The recruitment team, had succeeded in that environment and they were out to find more of the same. We introduced a range of varied tests, designed to highlight competences and qualities. One day stood out for me. I saw them reject a strong candidate because he hadn’t finished his written test. Why?  Because he’d been supporting others in his group to do so. I fought for his job.  He got it.  Drop out rates plummeted, and he rose to become a star recruit and quickly became a supervisor and team leader. 

Still think exams are the best way? I don’t.

Exams don’t connect with everyone.

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