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Leaving Cert starts this week June 7, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in General Bloggery, Ireland & the Irish.
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One of the most important times in a young Irish student’s life is occurring around now. The infamous Leaving Certificate exams (aka “ The Leavin’ ”) start this week with some 52,000 kids around the country sitting papers that will shape their future areas of study, if not their lives.

I’ve never liked the Leaving Certificate way of doing things, in so far as the way it presents the candidate with a 3 hour paper on whatever, upon which rests the merits of the previous 5+ years of schooling. You get 3 hours to prove that your previous 5+ years of school were worth it and that you are a capable student. One chance really, if you exclude the repeating option, where you must retake the whole year if you want to try for better results. That is a lot to sit on any students shoulders. If you have an off day or cannot for the life of you remember a certain point, then tough. You may well be a maths whiz but if you can’t perform in the exam, then tough.

A couple of points spring to mind, as I empathise with the kids going through the exams this month.

I think, for the most part, if a kid doesn’t know how to study effectively – and I certainly didn’t – the exam becomes a memory test. A once off; your chance to regurgitate poems and theorems and formulae … I distinctly remember the first thing I did when my exams started was to scribble frantically on my rough work paper all the things I’d crammed into my head in the hope of not forgetting them. It was a random selection and didn’t always serve me well but it was the only way I could remember them.

Because I was never taught how to study or how to learn properly – I absorbed information but never really learnt it to the point of being able to spot where it was needed and then repeat it with ease. We were told “get in there and study!” which meant we poured over books and exam papers but ended up really only knowing the topics while we were studying them, not actually learning them for keeps.

And that’s an important difference – it’s all about the learning process. If a kid has to learn 2 years worth of stuff for a paper, unless he is instructed how to learn it properly and understands it as he goes along, I think it is less likely to be easily brought out in the heat of an exam.

I am all for continuous assessment, which ascertains a student’s ability to learn and advance, building on a topic in slower, easier parts. A student assessed in this way might walk in to the all important Leaving Certificate exam knowing they had already “passed”. The exam should be a chance for students to show what they know and not so much a pure memory test for those of them (us) that couldn’t even effectively remember our own names !

That said, I wish the best of luck to all students sitting the state exams in the coming weeks. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t achieve as high a result as you wish for. I wanted to do a business course in Cork but ended up going to Dublin – if that hadn’t happened, I would never have met my wife and my lovely daughter would be a figment of my overactive imagination …

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