December 2019 is not only the end of a decade but also marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog. Every month for the last 10 years I have written something under the broad heading of exams and how to pass them. That makes it a good point from which to look back at some of the subjects discussed and see if we can learn anything new or simply remind ourselves of what has been forgotten.
By way of context and to get you in the mood here is a random list of memorable events, innovations and developments that have taken place in those 10 years.
Climate change and Greta Thunberg – Uber – Instagram – iPad launched – Wearables – Obama to Trump – Brexit – Streaming and Netflix – Big data – Terrorism and mass shootings – Alexa – Electric cars – Toys R Us and Thomas Cook disappear – Cloud computing – AI – What’s App – Tuition fees £9,000 plus – Grenfell Tower – #Me Too – Refugee crises – Mental health.
To review over 120 blogs was harder than I thought but a number of themes began to emerge.
Exams, why do we have them, what do they prove etc – Perhaps an obvious but essential category for a blog about exams. Exams are still important and remain a key way in which a candidate can differentiate themselves in the job market. However recently grade inflation and increasing numbers of graduates coming out of University has begun to weaken this argument. We are also seeing a change as to the importance of league tables and measuring the quality of education by a single metric.
In the next decade technology has the potential to provide new and exciting alternatives to the traditional exam, able to assess and reward some of the more nuanced skills needed to prosper in the 2020’s. This together with a wider acceptance as to the value of micro credentials will make for an interesting next few years.
Mental attitude, includes, changing mindset, different thinking strategies and shifts in perspective. Often the importance of state of mind in passing exams is overlooked until something goes wrong. Understandably the student spends their time studying but as a result may miss how ineffective it has become, the result of neglecting their mental wellbeing. Subjects discussed here were the importance of motivation, Carol Duckworth’s Grit, Stress, Commitment, Confidence and Mood. One unfortunate development in recent years has been the growth in mental health issues, this is something I have not dealt with directly partly because it’s an area I don’t feel sufficiently informed to comment. But stress, the more temporary yet often precursor to serious forms of mental illness has been discussed many times.
As important as mental health is from a pure learning and personal perspective it is motivation that captures my imagination and yet remains elusive. This is despite a significant amount of research and time spent in attempting to understand it sufficiently well so that it might be possible to ‘inject it’ at just the right point, reigniting the students interests so they continue to learn more, with greater passion and energy.
Methods and techniques, this theme includes blogs written around the more practical aspects of passing exams, for example, exam techniques, what to do if you fail, using past exams to provide focus, better note making, mind mapping etc. A large amount of time has been devoted to writing blogs to help students do better in the exam. My motivation has always been simple, good students can fail an exam not because they haven’t worked hard enough, not because they are not ‘clever’ enough but simply because they didn’t understand the rules of the game, and that’s not fair.
10 years ago, the most valuable exam technique was to practice past exam questions and whilst this still sits at the top of the list it is not as powerful as it once was. The reason, examinations have and are changing, objective tests and case studies require different skills. For example, although working through a past case study is helpful, it will not give you that perfect symmetry with the real exam. Each case study is unique and although patterns can be seen they are not so easily duplicated. In addition, with the introduction of objective tests we are no longer sure that the questions practiced prior to the exam are the same as those actually in the exam.
How we learn, another big theme, this time exploring subjects such as Learning styles, Personalised learning, Learning science, Meta cognition, Reflection, Neuroscience, etc. An important objective of all the blogs was to remove the subjectivity and indulgence in expressing a personal opinion unless it was supported by evidence. This evidenced based approach underpins many of the blogs on how we learn. The inspiration often comes from new research or a genuine curiosity to find out more about something we take for granted or perhaps never even consider, for example what is going on when we think, what is thinking, how can you improve concentration, define intelligence and how important is it in passing exams.
The subject of intelligence and innate ability/ talent remains an area in which I am hugely interested. The idea that intelligence is 50%- 60% hard wired seems sensible and a certain amount of evidence exists to support this view, but brain plasticity is fascinating and an area I would like to find out more in the future.
2020 is just around the corner
That’s all folks for this decade at least, no predictions as to what might happen in the 2020’s I will leave that for another time. Enjoy what remains of 2019 and here is to the next decade – the decade of figuring out what is true and real – fact from fiction.