Examinations: A Personal Reflection

I do not refute the fact that culminating examinations, such as the IGCSEs administered by Cambridge Assessment in Grade 10 at the end of a two-year course, are important and have a place in education. They allow teachers, and students, to recognize their achievements and learning against a benchmarked, and standardized scale that is the final grade. They are a motivator for students to achieve academically. They are, in a crude sense, an indicator of the sum of a student’s intellectual capability and hard work, and thus form an integral basis of entrance to higher education.


However, what this lockdown in Singapore, and the subsequent cancellation of the May 2020 exams has made me realize, is how problematic this system is if not implemented appropriately. I have heard many peers complain about how their learning and preparing for exams were wasted, and how they had banked upon a sudden burst of diligence to study before the exams to raise their grade. This, I feel, is a pedagogical failing. Exams should not be the sole end goals of themselves; they should be a motivator for a deeper, more intrinsically satisfying goal of learning.

This quote from Confucius’s The Analects most succinctly and poetically captures my thoughts.

子曰:「知之者不如好之者,好之者不如樂之者。」 出自《論語・雍也第六》

This roughly means (and forgive me for I am not a professional translator), “Those who know to learn are no better than those who love learning, but those who love learning are no better than those who find inherent joy in learning.”

There is an inherent stimulating power in absorbing knowledge and learning about the world in all human beings, I think, and this comes through most clearly in the relentless inquisitive power of children. I think it is utterly misguided to extricate this raw motivation to learn from schooling, which, unfortunately can be the most effectively accomplished by a mistaken elevation of examinations above all else.

The cancellation of exams this year has allowed me to re-evaluate my motivations for studying, and has allowed me to not be constrained to the syllabus in learning, a perhaps overlooked silver-lining in these difficult circumstances.

《論語・雍也第六》[The Analects of Confucius, Yong ye]. Retrieved from https://www.ifreesite.com/scriptures/analects-06.htm

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