Cramming For Exams

The world over, the imminent approach of formal, standardised examinations has the potential to cause the flight of rationality and reason on the part of students, parents and (dare I say it) even sometimes teachers.

I’ve often said that whilst cutting educators some slack, we also have to take responsibility and remember to always have our guard up against the pernicious impact of our past. We are all ourselves products of the education systems of the past. Our school experiences as children impacted us at the most impressionable time in our lives. As a result, whilst today’s educators may learn, be trained in and practice all sorts of new perspectives, ways of doing things and practices based on the latest in psychological and neuroscience awareness when stress takes over it’s all too easy to resort to doing things the way they were, the way they were familiar when we were children.

Today, we all talk in terms of wanting or children to be lifelong learners, to own their own learning, to take responsibility and to acquire, learn and master skills of time management, planning, strategising and approaching the learning process with a long term perspective. A lot more is known than 40 years or so ago about how learning happens best and what works (and what doesn’t). Yet, across the world, if we were a fly on the wall outside exam halls 10 minutes before the doors open to admit the students, we would see school or college students hunched over notes or even sometimes the textbook in the hope of squeezing some last few morsels of knowledge in to their brains in the hope of extracting a little extra in marks from the exam. Many students almost feel that if they’re not doing this, not stressing, then somehow they risk being seen as not caring enough about the outcome of the exam – in the eyes of others or themselves.

In the weeks running up to the exams all parties join in with this stress momentum. All too often, educators unfortunately give students all the evidence they ever needed to believe that we’ve been deceiving them all along. We never really meant it when we said that they owned their own learning. We never really meant it when we said that learning was a marathon and not a sprint. We never meant it when we said we trusted them.

Instead, the adults start making decisions and imposing them on the students. One of the most common is the imposition of revision classes, cram sessions or whatever else we want to call them.

Here’s a perspective on this from a blog post of a concerned UK teacher;

The Guardian – Secret Teacher – Last Minute Revision Classes Do More Harm Than Good

I do believe there’s a duty on us, as educators, before jettisoning these habits and trends of the past to ensure that we are doing the right things all year around with our students. That includes, making the learning meaningful, guiding them to be self-motivating, self-organising and working from a position of proper understanding of how their own minds work. Students who see their learning as something they’re doing for themselves, motivated because they see how it contributes to their long term goals and working sensibly with skill and finesse don’t need us to doubt them in those critical final weeks. Rather, they need us to be reinforcing our faith in them, letting them know that if they need help or inputs we’re there for them, but that we have faith in them to deliver to their full potential.

Delivering great results doesn’t start in those last few weeks before exams. That’s true for a student, for a parent, a teacher or a whole school. Therefore, if we’ve all been doing the right things in the right ways, it’s vital that we resist knee-jerk behaviours in those final weeks that can actually undermine the great work.

Maybe our mantra should be – if it looks, sounds, feels, smells or tastes like when we went to school, we should probably STOP doing it !!!


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