'Exam details on TikTok are symptom of flawed system'

Some students are facing four exams where they should have had one – and nobody is happy, says this pupil


'TikTok exam details are symptom of flawed system'

It was on Saturday that I first became aware of the TikTok video that Tes Scotland reported on. I was sent the video by a friend as it contained information on an "assessment" I am sitting this week. The video mentioned in the Tes Scotland story had, when I saw it, 162,000 views and 4,500 comments. All of these comments contained information on a wide range of subject and levels, from National 5 to Advanced Higher.

I managed to find information on all my subjects, just from this one video: my English essay, biology essay, chemistry questions and every geography question. And now, after sitting two of the exams (that's what they are, whatever anyone tells you), I can confirm that what was said in the TikTok video and the comments around it were, in fact, correct: the English essay questions that were put on TikTok were the questions given to me on Monday.

I am due to sit 14 "assessments" in five subjects over five weeks. That is 14 assessments over 25 school days – or one exam every 1.8 school days. Many people have more than me. And all of this without study leave. I still have to do a full seven-hour day (which may have an "assessment" included), go home to do revision for my next exam, then go back to school the following day, sit the exam and complete the school day.

Background: Exam questions shared on TikTok 'SQA black market'

'Fairness for all learners': SQA warns of penalties for 'exam' details on TikTok

Related: Grade deadline move for ‘unduly disadvantaged’ students

WATCH: Sturgeon insists teachers' judgement is key

SQA: 'No requirement to replicate full formal exams'

Nobody is happy with this. Not pupils. Not parents. Not teachers. We were told, in December, that exams were cancelled and that our grades would be determined by "teacher judgement". All pupils and teachers understood that continuous assessment was inevitable in order to determine a grade.

However, another lockdown occurred and, once again, we were faced with "online learning". For senior-phase pupils, we started the course in lockdown and we ended the course in lockdown. For most of my subjects, I had "learned" a third of the course during the January to March lockdown. There was very little in-class teaching of this because these (not) exams were sprung upon us. I am sitting assessments when at least one third of the course has not been taught to me in class. That is not fair. For anyone.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) also claims that it has reduced the course content in many subjects. That is nonsense. Biology – not reduced. Chemistry – not reduced. English – only one folio piece is required, which is completed at home anyway. Maths – not reduced. Geography – the "coasts" section will not be assessed but I was already taught it before the SQA took it out.

The SQA will no doubt say “nobody has come up with a better solution”. This is also what my headteacher said when I asked about it. They said that the "alternative certification model" is the best way to assess candidates. Why is it alternative, though? "Alternative" suggests "different". This "certification model" is exactly the same as all previous years, apart from 2020. I still have to sit SQA papers, in timed conditions, but in a classroom instead of a hall. What is different about that?

The entire system is unfair. Not everybody has had access to an individual laptop or tablet for the roughly three months we were learning online. So, how could people learn (or rather teach themselves) when they did not have access to a device?

Our mental health was not taken into account either by the SQA executives. Did they seriously think that cramming multiple "assessments" into the space of four or five weeks wasn’t going to affect us? Did they not think we would get stressed or anxious? Did they seriously think that we would be able to work at our absolute best for a subject when we have other assessments in the same week while we still have to follow our school timetable?

Of course they did not take it into account – if they had, we would not be in this situation. The SQA doesn’t care about the candidates or the teachers. This was proven when the SQA tried to blame us pupils and the teachers for the "leaking" of exam questions. The SQA is now blaming others for its own incompetence. It simply will not take accountability for its flawed system this year. Everybody knew that this situation would happen, except the SQA.

Maybe the decision to cancel exams was too hasty. Everybody I have spoken to says they should have just run exams as normal since exams are, essentially, what we are are being subjected to now. The difference being that we would have only had one exam per subject instead of up to four. And we would have had time to study for them – unlike the reality we are facing now.

The writer is an S5 student at a school in Scotland

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