Friday 2 March 2012

Exam-rehearsal work, again and again and again

Here is a semi-mathematical, semi-conceptual question: what percentage of work done in school and set as homework is what I would term 'exam-rehearsal' work?

So, for example, if you look at the questions on the Year 2 SATs paper, they take a certain form. They ask the same kinds of questions, they ask the children to perform the same tasks from year to year. As a result, teachers try to equip the children they teach with the ability to answer these questions and they customary way of doing this is by setting in class and for homework what are in effect replica papers, or replica parts of papers. This I would count as 'exam-rehearsal' work.

So, in English state schools, as of June, children will be tested at the end of Year 1. Many schools volunteer to be tested at the end of Year 2. Then they are tested again at the end of Year 6. Now, as far as I know, most schools do some 'exam-rehearsal' for all three. Some do a lot of it in the times between Year 2 and 6.

What goes on in secondary school? How much time is spent doing work that replicates the form and structure of GCSE exam papers?

Now if those papers were remarkable examples of education, full of insightful ways for children to express what they know, then I suppose we could say it's all worth it. But that ain't the case. A good deal of test and exam questions are mind-numbingly conformist, right/wrong, factual questions which specifically discourage creative or divergent thought.

So, back to the question at the beginning: what percentage of education time - in school and for homework - is spent doing 'exam-rehearsal' work?

Has anyone measured it? Has anyone stopped to work out whether this is a useful or sensible way for young people to spend their time?