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To exam, or not to exam – that is the question!

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Exams – the most stressful time of the year for both learners and teachers. Cramming a year’s knowledge into one paper and getting it graded in record time. The ongoing debate about whether exams are really the most effective way to test knowledge and skill are on the lips of every learner, teacher and especially the competitive parents who are already out buying their best outfits for prize-giving eve.

Some might argue that exams test a learner’s knowledge on the actual material and that this is the most fair method of all. Others might say that exams are a one-size-fits-all box that only benefits a certain type of person, with certain types of abilities. It does not necessarily reflect intelligence levels.

If not exams, what are the other viable options for testing knowledge in schools and handing out those academic trophies? There are actually quite a few methods that are being used in certain global schools.

Adaptive Testing – an advanced testing system. The test is digital and questions are put to learners based on the right and wrong answers for questions in a specific sequence.

Simulations – not quite the fun simulating rides you might find on a fun day out at Gold Reef City, but a simulated environment is created, where learners are presented with a scenario and a case. They are then expected to be solutions-driven and come up with a real-time answer. Best learning school for common sense and life skills.

e-Portfolios – learners showcase their creative and technical skills by building prototypes of working models. This is of great significance, especially now that careers are more practical and that a specific skill set is key to certain industries.

Life Skills – it is a well-known fact that a good education should make you a responsible citizen and reputable leader of tomorrow. Everyone strives for a good job with a steady income. Over and above text-book learning, it is important that learners are taught life skills that cover a wide variety of topics – etiquette, dressing, general knowledge about politics, sport, speaking – the list is absolutely endless.

Irrelevant which side of the fence you are on, exams are a reality in the South African education system. It is, however, exceptionally important to remember that simply stated, measuring intelligence through exams is, inevitably, as limited as the examination itself. Yes, we all agree that it might prove a reasonable sieve – perhaps even the best we can provide, but it will not identify many of those we just know to be intelligent with a solid head on their shoulders.

As educators, we have to look wider and encourage the youth – all personality types, creative, realists and dreamers. As diverse as our country is, different thought patterns and ideas need to be nurtured to bring the best out of society and our schools. Exams are a reality, but not a crystal ball that determines the fate of each learner.


To exam, or not to exam – that is the question!


Inge Liebenberg




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