'After sitting 28 GCSE papers in four weeks, I was left thinking, "What was the point of all that?"'

The GCSE system doesn't prepare us for the future, it's simply tells us if we're any good at memorising things, writes one 16-year-old student

Natalie Brundle

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After taking 28 exams in a four-week period, after 12 years of formal education and three years of GCSE preparation, I was left wondering: what was the point of all that?

This year’s English and maths exams are being formatted to the new grading system of levels 9-1 instead of the usual and familiar A-U. This means that our year will have two different sets of grades for their GCSEs. 

Never mind the fact that no one knew what exactly the grading system was like until the beginning of Year 11, or had had sight of any specimen papers, or had been told much at all about the new GCSEs, or that because of this we had a year less to get used to how the exam format might work: most of us managed to handle that. 

But that wasn’t the end of it. This year we found ourselves with the dubious pleasure of memorising a host of formula sheets for maths and science.

At least the 2017 cohort didn’t have the horror of the physics exam without a formula sheet; the year below are busy memorising formula after formula. Because let’s face it, in the real world there’s no such thing as formula sheets. 

If these exams are preparing us for the future, it is a future, from what we can tell, that will be full of memorised formulas and dates and even entire essays until we can recite them in our sleep. 

The kid who goes on to be an accountant: he won’t be able to access the statistics or figures if he forgets them while writing a report. The child who goes on to be a physicist: she won’t get to look up the formula for the density of an object because she should have memorised it. Instead she’ll be fired. 

Memory isn't everything

That is what these exams tell us – that if you don’t remember in that allotted time period, you fail.

We are being told that only the students with good memories are smart, because they can remember the formulas, the dates, the essays, the quotes and everything in between.

We are not being taught to express our own ideas; instead, we endeavour to find one that will get us the best grade and recite it until we know it off by heart. We are being taught to be robots.

Maybe in the past this has worked, but right now the world is so fast-changing that we need creative minds to flourish. We should be able to think on our feet, to question the teacher and voice their own opinion. 

The exam asks: "How is control shown in Macbeth?" I want to write about how Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is a backwards feminist icon and why her power and control in Macbeth was so horrifying in Jacobean times but so brutally understandable today.

I wouldn’t have received any marks for stepping over the boundaries, I wouldn’t haven’t have been awarded many marks at all.

Then there are the creative subjects, such as art and music and drama, but having been taught so thoroughly to recite and memorise, we are being told that we’re not creative enough any more. Why is that?

Why are we being forced to do nearly 30 exams in a month, having spent two years memorising and revising, if we’re not being prepared for the future? Why are we so stressed and so tired and realising that we might not be getting the grades expected of us any more?

Teaching us that our memory is our only source of value, and that our opinions only matter if they are under the guidelines of the exam boards, will result in a generation of narrow-minded children.

Even in creative writing, some of my classmates came into school on the day of the exam having memorised the whole swathes of prose, convinced they knew it had what the examiners wanted.

Memorising formulas, essays, quotes and all that is required by exam boards for 28 exams in four weeks is not preparing us for the future. Never in our lives will we have to go through this again.

So the real question is, what are these exams preparing us for?    

Natalie Brundle is a 16-year old student from West London, anxiously awaiting her GCSE results later this month     

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Natalie Brundle

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