Most people who are still in education will have had exams this January, and so will be more than familiar with the nerves, the stress, and the intense hours spent in an exam hall spurting out all of the information you can remember in whichever order it forms in your brain. Exams have been contested as a method of testing our knowledge for a while, because we tend to learn, in parrot fashion, facts, names dates and arguments, let it all out onto an exam paper, and then completely forget what we were talking about within days. They don’t help us learn, and they certainly don’t test what we’re capable of, beyond how much we can store in our short term memories. Exams though, are not just bad ways of measuring our learning and intelligence, but are awful for our mental health, producing unnecessary stress and trauma. Exams? We’re over them.
The first part of exam stress is the actual revision period, often around a month to two weeks of solid revision time. Although many universities try to help keep student spirits up in the process, no amount of cuddling pet dogs and free freddos can mitigate the reality of day, after day, of revising the same stuff, and still not knowing it off by heart. Revision days mostly range between 4-8 hours, though many students will cram more like 10 hours in at the end to get things done. The endless repetition and lack of free time grates slowly on our mental health, becoming unbearable. No matter how interested we are in a topic, endless revision for it, for an exam we don’t want to take, means that the content becomes slowly mind numbing and boring. In fact, a study found that 7% of Oxford’s student population are receiving counselling along with 728 postgraduate students, even for those most adapt to academic and exams, mental health is clearly an issue.
It’s that which affects mental health in the exam period the most I think, the boring, endless repetition. This, mixed with acute stress at the idea of failing, feeling like an unproductive few hours is the difference between a good and a bad mark, but being unable to make more than a few hours of revision happen because of the mind-numbing intensity of your work. It’s no wonder that many students go beyond feeling stressed during exam season, and begin feeling depressed. The 2015 head of Wellington College, Sir Anthony Seldon, was quoted stating that exams put children (and, I am arguing students), under intolerable pressure, a pressure I’m sure anyone who has had a stressful exam season has felt.
Finally, on the day of the exam, you’re in your seat pouring everything you have onto a piece of paper, and if it goes well, you’re thinking, ‘all of that revision just for that one hour exam?’, and if it goes badly, you’re stuck thinking ‘all of that revision, for nothing, just a resit in the summer.’ It’s a very empty feeling.
So we should ditch exams, because no one should feel under such intense stress, so depressed and so worn out as students during exam periods. And, we should ditch them because they don’t even measure how much we understand a topic, how we can think critically and consider something. They measure how much we can fit into our brains learning through repetition, and how well we can spill it across an answer booklet. Finally, we should ditch exams, because these stressful, meaningless events in our learning actually define whether people are ‘intelligent’ or not, and create barriers to where they can go in life, based off one hour in a cold, silent exam hall. Exams are outdated, lets get rid.
Written by Katherine Skippon