It's a question that comes up during every exam season, when you feel like as hard as you're trying, nothing examinable is going into your brain and despite you enjoying what you're learning and knowing what you're supposed to have been taught, you still don't think you can regurgitate that in timed, exam conditions.
As flawed as the method of examination by writing essays in timed conditions is, I guess it's still the best, most efficient way at the moment of testing a whole bunch of people to see who's actually taken away something from the year of lectures and who hasn't. It doesn't work for some people, though in some way, it's a self-selecting process (we got into Cambridge cos we did well for A levels where exams were done in pretty much the same manner). Every year, I find some of my friends intermitting to take exams the following year, because of some reason or other that prevents them from taking the exams in the right frame of mind (though I've never come across that in rg/rj. That might speak more for the friends I hang out with than anything else though?)
It's gruelling, Cambridge exams. We might not have learnt more things, either in depth or in breadth (it's difficult for me to say objectively, not having experienced any other university degree), but the way the system works, with 8 weeks of cramming in a term, and taking a set of exams at the end of the year (of three years) which will determine the class you graduate with. It's probably more the stress of almost everything hinging on what you write in 14 hours (for Zoology anyway), than the actual difficulty of the exams, that get people. That's the case for me anyway.
After three years though (and the previous 12 years of formal schooling), I think I finally managed to take my last set of exams in the best (right?) frame of mind and attitude. I've been spending a lot more time in prayer and contemplation the last half a year or so, and watching Monsieur Vincent, a film about St Vincent de Paul and his charitable works, the day before exams probably helped put exams in perspective for me.
Exams may not be necessary for education, indeed plenty of education can be gained without any formal examination. But if we have to do exams, we should not see it as the entire point of education, let alone the end point. 'Our worth is not measured by our grades & we're judged in life not by the class we graduate with' was what I said on Facebook, and I wholehearted believe that. The outcomes are important for our self-esteem and assurance (getting a grade we feel reflect the amount of work we put in), and for our short-term goals (getting into the graduate programme, securing the job etc), but ultimately I would like to think that no matter what class I graduate with, I will still be happy knowing that I had obtained an extremely invaluable education and have learned as much as I expected to when I matriculated 3 years ago.
I really liked that, in half of my modules this year at least, I can see direct applications for the real world. I felt like I was studying something that is important in tackling some of the most important and urgent global crises. Stuff like conservation, food security, influenza outbreaks, they're current and relevant and I'm really really glad I'm fortunate enough to be lectured by people who are at the forefront of these research. That's not to say that only studying these issues are important and worthwhile, and therefore all other subjects are useless. I really enjoyed the other half of my modules on vertebrate and mammalian evolution. They made me feel like I was actually a Zoology student, and they're just fascinating and interesting topics in themselves, which is all that is important in deciding what to study.
It really pained me therefore, when I had a terrible set of exams yesterday. I've had enough exams previously where I just didn't know what the questions were asking for, and they just ended terribly. But that's usually for lack of effort or caring. Yesterday though, the essays I had written were on topics I really cared about and have thought a lot about, and it's just terrible cos I felt like I had inadequately answered the question. It just feels so shit, when you know you probably got a 2:2 when you could have easily written a 2:1 essay (or if God willing, a 1st).
Anyways, I'm done with the week of all my exams now, and today's went a lot better thankfully. I got through the entire exam season (the months/weeks leading up to and preparing for the exams) without any major breakdown, still managing to do soup runs between my exams and being able to make the time to go for lauds (morning prayer) everyday. They kept me grounded and reminded me of the important things in life and of why I live. I have never felt more strongly than ever, that what I want to do with my life revolves around reducing the inequality and the injustice that's so prevalent in our world in some way or other, and working to leave this world a better place.
And that's what I think the point of exams, or what the point of education is. To make us better prepared to deal with the problems in this world. As I said before the start of my last exam today, better and cleverer people than I are deprived of the opportunities that I have been blessed with, and I did my exam for these people Because of my privilege, and because I want to give back.
I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.
UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.