Message from Naheed Bardai, Head, Middle School
I’ve been trying my best to avoid writing about the dreaded “E” word, but alas, it’s that time of year. Our Form 7s will be writing their first set of exams. The word “exams” conjures up all kinds of mental images. Google the word and check out the “Images” filter to see an array of associations: I can do it, I can do it, I can do it; Happiness is… finishing your exams; and endless photos of students hunched over stacks of books, holding their head in distress. All these connotations are deeply embedded in our culture and psyche – but we don’t have to buy into them.
Slowly disappearing are the days when we believe the exam tells us everything, that somehow showing off your ability to cram all kinds of facts and knowledge into your short-term memory is a sign of your intellectual prowess. We know that the skills our boys need to be leaders now and in the future go far beyond what an exam can tell us. We know the development of collaborative learning skills, creativity, media literacy and critical thinking can happen more effectively through other activities beyond examinations. So why then do we have our boys take exams?
First, while exams definitely don’t give us the entire and definite picture of a boy’s abilities, that doesn’t meanthey give us and boys no information. Exams can be a useful tool to help boys understand their ability to learn and recall information, apply knowledge and engage in some analysis and evaluation. Second, it’s a method of assessment that boys will engage with during their academic careers. At the College, all exams our Form 7 students will sit are internal (UCC based) with the exception of their final IB Diploma exams in May 2022.
As such, the main purpose of our exams in Form 7 is to help boys become better at the skill of taking an exam – not as a summative judgement of a boy’s intellectual abilities. Just as with any skill, its development comes with effort, practise and a growth mindset. As we help our boys prepare for their exams in June, let’s be cognizant of approaching them with a growth mindset. A fixed mindset approach would prioritize the grade over the learning, and achievement over reflection. Let’s instil in our boys a reflective temperament that has them always asking themselves: How did I do in my exam? Why did I perform that way? What do I need to do to improve? The questions should be the same whether a boy scores a 60% or a 90%. If the boy who scores a 60% believes he is unintelligent or “can’t do it,” he loses the opportunity to learn from the experience and improve for next time. If the boy who scores 90% believes he is the best and has nothing else to learn, he has lost the exact same opportunity. Five years from now, it doesn’t matter who scored 60% and who scored 90%. What matters more is who learned the most from the experience and who knows how to change their behaviour in order to improve. That’s the real purpose of our exams – to provide a forum for that learning to happen.
On our end, to help prepare the boys, we’ve developed tools to guide their study. Each class will also be walked through the process to help the boys feel more comfortable and to lower their anxiety level. During their health and life skills class, and in conjunction with the Centre for Learning, the boys will focus on building an exam preparation calendar. We ask that boys begin their preparations for their exams after the long weekend. When you’ve an opportunity, please speak with your boy about how he’s preparing for his exams and help him schedule his out-of-school commitments appropriately.
Let this first exam session be about practise, effort, and reflection, rather than about grades, achievement and “feeling smart.” For more information about student exam preparations, please refer to our LibGuide at http://ucc.on.ca.libguides.com/c.php?g=517406.