Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Turning Exams Upside Down and Inside Out

Is this a question?
- Is this an answer?

It's quite stressful for children to sit exams at the age of 10 or 11. It is perhaps fortunate that many young people are not fully aware of what is happening to them, and have a poor understanding of its rationale or relevance.

Typically, children are trained how to revise, and they are taught exam technique, but no one really explains why they are being asked questions based on their comprehension of a text, or their verbal reasoning. Obedient children simply get on with the task, and some of them succeed from will-power alone. Creative children tend to become bored and rebellious, no matter how much you tell them that this is vital for their future career prospects.

In order to begin to fix this problem of justifiable resistance, we need to step back from the compulsory testing regimes and the machinery of educational selection. New strategies are required. I'm sure testing is here to stay, but I do think that children should be granted an opportunity to interrogate it, and perhaps understand what's happening in this process, as a consequence of this educational regime ...

One approach that I developed in University seminars was to rethink the 30 questions that I had planned to deploy in order to stimulate seminar discussion of a literary text. What I asked the students to do instead was to compile a set of questions that they thought I would ask them. Taking this exercise a step further, they crafted questions based on what they thought we ought to be asking. In effect the learners became teachers, and the learning became collaborative rather than hierarchical. By better understanding the questions, essentially they developed a profounder sense of what constituted an answer.

Children also really enjoy making up their own 11+ style exams. I call this The Alternative 11+ as it should incorporate some humour, and certainly employ more creativity than the narrow iQ test that dominates these exercises !

This game can be fun and creative as the children compete to invent killer questions. Furthermore, this process allows them to learn effectively, by turning the exam process upside down and inside out. The result is both increased confidence and a deeper understanding of what and why questions are set. It's called meta-learning. Why not give it a try?

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