Why I ... am sick of taking exams

August 24, 2001

As part of the guinea-pig generation, since the age of seven I have taken every exam that the powers that be could think up. Although they have been regular - every two years or so - they have allowed for some breathing space and even, dare I say, a little relaxation.

After GCSEs I expected an opportunity to relax into year 12 and was not really prepared for the next set of exams, the AS levels. I was aware that the new system would be demanding, but, like my friends, I was not expecting to have to work too hard until after Christmas. A year sounds like a long time to prepare for exams. Of course, I should have realised the year was of the much shorter academic variety.

The AS exams are now over. I have an A, a C and two Es; not ideal, but enough to continue. Many of my friends were not so lucky. To be honest, none of us was model students. The Sixth Form Consortium we attend is right next to Hampstead Heath, which is much preferable to a classroom. So you could say that failure was to be expected because we didn't attend as much as we should have.

My oldest brother is a good example of how the system has changed for the worse. During his first year of A levels his attendance was worse than mine, but he got two As and a B by working in his second year. Many of my friends have the potential to catch up like that, but thanks to the extra workload they got too far behind. My two Es, in philosophy and history, are a testimony to how close I came.

Although AS levels are modular and so technically can be retaken during the A2 year, many schools and colleges, including mine, only offered this option on a limited basis. I could choose to retake parts of my exams to improve my grades, but those people I know with only Es and Us will not be allowed. They will have to retake their AS levels next year, as I take my A2s.

I am not sure whether I am better off than those retaking the year because there is a possibility that the A2 exams will be modified as I am taking them, affecting my grade next year as well. That is a prospect I do not relish, especially as my sixth form brought us back after the AS exams to do three weeks of the A2 course before the summer holiday.

It was bad enough last year when my history teacher did not know how much coursework we had to do almost until it was due for submission. I do not want a repeat of this or worse.

Not only could the A2s change as I study them, but I have no idea what effect all this will have on my university application, although I suspect it will not be favourable. My Es in history and philosophy will not look good on an application form, despite the fact that I will continue only one of these subjects at A2, something I am quite bitter about. I had no desire to take a fourth subject and now I may be penalised for it should I choose to cash in the results this September - a process I still do not understand.

I am worried that my results might not look good next to this year's A-level students who take a gap year or students from public schools or the London Oratory, for example, where the AS and A2 exams will be taken next year, like traditional A levels.

I must also consider what might happen if I take a gap year. Will Curriculum 2000 be so significantly improved that my grades will pale in comparison to next year's applicants? Not likely given that there is more projected change - but something I have to consider.

Everything about Curriculum 2000, except perhaps the original intention, seems ridiculous - especially the idea that adding one extra subject for one year would broaden my education.

I might take a gap year. After three consecutive years of exams, including GCSEs, I will need a break. It should give me plenty of time to revise my list of assassination targets.

Daniel Farrell
La Swap Sixth Form Consortium
Camden

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