Testing times.


At least the dog doesn't have a test in the morning.

At least the dog doesn’t have a test in the morning.


A few days ago, having been moved to comment following to a couple of blogs that I had written around World Book Day, a young respondent posted a reply in which he expressed his own love of reading and bemoaning the fact that doing so for pleasure was not given sufficient value. Adithya told me of his love of Dickens, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde but felt that at present in his life reading has been reduced to an unrewarding task. I would like to reassure Adithya that his passion for literature will serve him well throughout his life, and hopefully he can grit his teeth and get through his current frustrations with the demands of his current situation.

Adithya had written:-

“The fact that we read to pass tests is absolutely true. I am currently writing my 12th grade board exams that so many parents make a hue and cry about. I sit with the textbook and read through for nearly 6 hours just to score an 80% on that test”.

It isn’t so much the fact that Adithya is having to spend so much time reading to pass a test, that interested me in this statement. Though I do feel that six hours cramming from a text book may not be a terribly effective way to learn; at least not if your definition of learning, like mine extends beyond simply being able to regurgitate facts. My interest was drawn much more towards the concerns expressed about parental responses to the test.

All parents are understandably concerned that their children achieve well at school, and quite rightly take a pride in their achievements. Testing is an inevitable part of the education assessment process, but we must recognise that for many children this is accompanied by a high degree of stress and anxiety. Parents can play an important role in either alleviating or exacerbating the stressful experiences of their children at this time. When I read the comment from Adithya I was suddenly taken back to my own school days and recalled the experiences of a school mate for whom examination time was a period of excruciating anxiety.

Robert (not his real name) was well known as one of the brightest boys in the school. His course work was outstanding, particularly in mathematics and the sciences and in his early teenage years he had aspirations to go to university to study medicine. I remember in mathematics classes, never one of my favourite subjects, Robert always found the work so easy whilst I had to labour hard to keep up. Everyone assumed that he would sail through the final examinations and advance towards his ambitions of being a doctor. We all knew that his parents were already planning for his departure to university a few years hence. But sadly this was never to be. As the examinations loomed near Robert became increasingly stressed and started to doubt his ability to pass the examinations. The more his anxieties took over, the harder he revised, spending hours over his books and occupying every waking hour attempting to cram his brain with information.

I would like to report a happy ending to Robert’s endeavours but sadly this was not the case. As he himself had predicted his results fell well short of what either he, or his parents had desired. Whilst he may well have continued his studies and retaken his examinations he opted to leave school for a less stressful life and the last time I saw him he was managing a book shop in Cheltenham. His parents blamed the school for failing to push him harder to ensure he got the results they wanted, but I suspect that his teachers, just like his friends in school, knew that the problem was not with the school but far more with the pressures created from outside.

The expectations we place upon learners are probably more influential than we realise. Reading Adithya’s posting brought back these memories of Robert and started me wondering what he is doing now. Perhaps he is still managing the bookshop in Cheltenham, if so I have no doubt that he will be making a great contribution to his community and serving his customers well. Maybe he overcame his anxieties, returned to education and is now working somewhere as a doctor. Whatever the situation I hope that he is now happy and experiencing a lot less anxiety than he did during those last few years of school.

Everyone has their own way of approaching examinations and tests. I am sure that for some, late nights cramming from textbooks will be the answer. For others a steady approach over a prolonged period and maybe a quiet evening with a novel or some favoured music the night before the test is just as likely to gain results. Of one thing I am sure, the effort to ensure that learning is seen as a pleasure and not a chore is more likely to achieve a positive attitude towards study.

So,I’ve been working hard all day, it’s now ten o’clock at night and I’m going to settle down for a good read.

4 thoughts on “Testing times.

  1. Hi, Richard, There were, and still are, many Roberts and their parents in China. Your blog took me back to my early years as a student cramming for tests. It also reminded me of the reports I received from my daughter Joy’s junior middle school about her behaviour, which basically were ‘not cramming hard enough’, given her high capacity in learning. I was not Bobert’s parent. But I admit that I expected a bit too high of her. As a result of that, I became stressful and anxious. I put the blame on myself that I was not with her in China during her three critical years in junior middle school. If I had been there for her to make sure she crammed for tests, she could have been admitted to a medical college in the UK. This is what people think about me. This is also what I believed for quite a few years.
    Joy will have to take another IELTS test these days if she wants to join an MA programme in the UK this autumn after she finishes her BA from Plymouth. This time, I am not stressed. I only hope that she knows what she wants and knows what she should do to reach that. I am sorry for the Roberts and their parents. I am especially sorry for the Roberts who are suffering but are still pushing hard by the joint force of their teachers and schools as well as their parents.

  2. Hi Mary,
    I think we have perhaps created a culture where parents don’t know what to do for the best. Education has become a competitive industry rather than an opportunity to develop the habit of learning. This means that too often parents feel guilt and teachers feel obliged to “teach to the test” rather than fostering positive attitudes to learning.

    • Hi Jean,
      Yes I’m sure that this is not a parochial matter. The erosion of childhood and the focus upon “measureable outcome” is disturbing. I’m sure that we will see increasing numbers of parents opting out of formal schooling in the future. Of course they will all be labelled as arty lefties. (Sadly my days of flowing locks are long since passed – now where did I leave my sandals??)

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