Examinations: An adrenaline inducing opportunity for growth
Danny O’Connor High School Principal UWCSEA Dover
Examinations are a necessary and important part of the High School years, as students strive to achieve internationally recognised qualifications that are widely accepted by higher education institutions and employers around the world as evidence of academic achievement. However, if there is one thing students dread most, it is the thought of having to sit examinations. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to teachers and parents and I’m sure the distant memories of entering an examination hall will still bring about physiological changes akin to running up a flight of stairs. The pressure of exams influences people in different ways and for some it can result in high levels of anxiety and an inability to think clearly. It takes time and practice to perform well under pressure and the exam process in the High School has been carefully planned to help students develop the essential skills and qualities that will prepare them for their all important final examinations in Grade 12.
The first set of examinations in the High School takes place near the end of Grade 9. For the majority of students, these internal examination are the first time that they will experience sitting in the Exam Hall, surrounded by up to 300 other students. The key focus for this first set of exams is to experience what it is like to work under exam conditions and to learn how to revise properly. An extensive study skills programme is taught as part of the personal and social education element of our learning programme. Students are guided through all aspects of the examination process, which educates them on how to develop a revision plan, identify effective revision strategies, deal with exam related anxiety and to learn from the feedback given to all students following their examinations. Having the opportunity to practice using different revision strategies is essential, because many students have misconceptions about the most effective strategies to help them remember information. Several memory strategies (1) have been found to be effective and this first set of examinations in Grade 9 allows students to practise proven revision strategies and to discover what works best for them.
Mock examinations for Grade 10 students are the second set of examinations that students experience in the High School. On Dover Campus, they are scheduled in the two weeks immediately after the December break. The break allows students time to relax with their friends and family at the end of a busy term, whilst also providing them with time for revision. (2) The mock exams mirror as much as possible the type of experience that students will encounter in their final external examinations and it provides them with an invaluable opportunity to use the revision strategies that they’ve developed in Grade 9. Research indicates that mock exams are an effective way of improving a student’s subject knowledge and their ability to recall information. (3) The timing of these examinations provides both students and teachers with ample time to address areas that need improvement before the final external examinations in May.
The exam schedule for Foundation IB, Grade 11 and Grade 12 students is very similar to the format used for Grade 9 and 10 (I)GCSE candidates. It is worth noting that results from any internal or ‘mock’ examinations are not included on grade transcripts for university applications. This alleviates some of the pressure associated with this process and encourages students to view these exams as a learning experience.
The Personal and Social Education programme in Grade 11 and 12, building on the work done earlier in the High School, focuses on developing resilience. By the time students sit their final IB Diploma examinations in May of their final year at UWCSEA, they are equipped with the revision strategies necessary to be successful and they possess the skills to deal with the pressure of high stakes examinations. However, the learning that takes place throughout this examination preparation process doesn’t just benefit students in these final examinations; it helps them develop knowledge and skills that will benefit them at university and in life beyond UWCSEA.