What’s the point of exams – what do they prove?

With many students in the middle of exams right now, working long hours, making huge personal sacrifices and putting themselves under considerable pressure, perhaps we should stop, take a moment to reflect and ask ……….what’s the point of exams?

Why are you doing this, what will it prove when you do pass, what will passing give you that you don’t have now?



It’s not about knowledge

If you pass an exam, you have proved that you knew the answers to questions set by the examiner at a particular point in time. To be precise you have only really proved you knew enough answers to get a pass mark, in some instances this might be less than half! But you have not proved that you understand everything about the subject or that you could work unsupervised in practice, knowing what to do is not quite the same as doing it.

This is not to say that examinations are easy, they are not or to underestimate their importance, it is just to be a little clearer on what exam success means.

Higher level skills

By passing an exam you are demonstrating many other skills, for example;

Motivation – You have proved that when you set your mind to something you can achieve it.

Concentration – For some people, concentration comes easily for others it might involve removing all distractions by locking themselves in a room. Whatever method you used, you have learned how to cut out distractions and focus on the task in hand.

Prioritisation and Time management – Undoubtedly you have had too much to learn and too little time to learn it. But if you pass the exam you have proved that you got the balance between an endless, or at least what appeared endless set of demands and the overall objective just right.

But most of all exams give you….

A great sense of achievement – You set yourself a target and achieved it.  It is a statement to others that you worked hard and have succeeded. It will remain a tangible and permanent reminder of success that can never be taken away.

Self confidence – It will build self esteem and help you develop a type of confidence that only comes from being successful in a chosen field. Others will congratulate you and as a result, treat you differently.

Choices – it will open doors to opportunities that simply would not have been possible without the piece of paper that says “Congratulations, you have passed”. Exam success will give you choices, it will change how others look at you but perhaps more importantly it will change how you feel about yourself…

So if you have been working hard keep at it, you may not be proving you are the greatest mathematician in the world, but if all goes to plan the end result will make up for all the pain you are going through right now, honest!

But just in case…..everything doesn’t work out check out these Famous A-level flunkers

Okay kids – Just remember always sit a mock exam

Always sit a mock exam

Rolf Harris has had a very varied career, musician, singer-songwriter, composer, painter, television personality and passionate advocate of sitting a mock exam. Okay I made that last one up but Rolf did make a very good point in an interview that I think illustrates one of the main benefits of sitting a mock exam.

In his early days Rolf used to paint on a huge canvass using wallpaper brushes and rollers, and it was in front of a live TV audience with only a 5 minute slot. Many years later in an interview he was asked why he practised painting the same thing over and over again, “after all Rolf you are a very good artist” said the interviewer, Rolf replied, “yes I can paint, but I am not practising to improve my painting, I am practising to make sure I finish on time, this is live television I have to finish at exactly the right time, that’s what I am trying to learn.”

And the same applies to mock exams, you’re not sitting a mock to find out what mark you’re going to get, that’s just the by product, you’re doing it to make sure you will finish on time. Knowing all the answers is no good if you run out of time….

Reasons to sit a mock exam:

1. Practice at leaving questions and moving on. Leaving a question you can do but have spent too much time on is easier said than done, remember there are often easier marks in the first 5 minutes of the next question than in the previous one. If you sit a mock exam you can practice leaving questions, sticking exactly to the time indicated by the marks in the question.

2. It’s an opportunity – I like to think of exams as opportunities to improve, they help identify what you need to improve to be better next time. This means the more mocks you sit the better you get!

3. Helps manage ignorance – There will certainly be questions in the exam that you won’t be able to do, where you don’t know the answer. Managing ignorance is a higher level skill, it is the ability to have a go, give it your best shot, even if you don’t know, just use your common sense. You may be very surprised at your mark. Only when you sit a mock will you really force yourself to have a go.

4. Gives you an indication of the topics that you are good at and the ones you aren’t. Sometimes you think you know something but when it comes to it, like in a mock you don’t.  Don’t worry there will still be time after the mock to brush up on those “think you know areas” areas.

5. Can help you deal better with stress. If you sit a mock exam it can feel like the real thing, but it isn’t. So if you panic and lose time as a result it doesn’t matter. It gives you a chance to think how you would deal with that situation should it arise again.

The best reason

But the best part of sitting a mock exam is if the mock you sit turns out to be very similar to the real thing. What would your chances of passing be then! Mocks should always be written with an eye on what might come up.

What it is not

On the whole a mock exam is not meant to predict success or failure although many people think of it like this, only the real exam matters. So why not give it a go and sit a mock exam this time, what have you got to lose.

And finally no mention would be complete of Rolf without a chance to watch Rolf sing Two little boys. Nothing to do with exams but a classic….