If testing is part of learning, then why do parents complain that test or exam questions are tough? Though old news, such incidences always amuse and puzzle me.

(1) How on earth do parents know exam questions

(2) Why are people complaining EXAM questions are too difficult or not taught in school and

(3) Why are twelve year olds so stressed about not being to answer a question or two in an exam!

The Youngest One’s SAT Test

About three years ago, Youngest One sat for the 4.5-hour-long SAT exam for the very first time. It was his first formal exam. as he had never sat an exam in his life.

At the exam center, I sat outside waiting the whole time, with food and drinks for his breaks. During the breaks we talked about weird things I no longer recall, I had no clue how many questions he could or could not answer.

He came home almost crying as he could not answer MANY MANY questions. He said he was going to fail and die. I just laughed and said to wait for the results. There was not a need to know every answer!

Parents’ Pressure on Child

Why is it important enough for a parent to want to know the questions a child missed? Imagine the stress on the child to recall and report that. So I thought about this. The child is so pressurized to do well, he wrote out the question and parents agree it is too difficult (presumably because parents also cannot solve?) and then the right thing to do is to question the minister or the ministry? Hm…

How about this: If a child does not know the answer to a question that is correctly set, should we be encouraging them to read more widely, research extensively and solve problems creatively rather than waiting to be spoon fed by the school teachers or tuition centers.

Also, it is important to highlight to the child that if the questions are truly so difficult, and nobody in the cohort can answer then it is level playing field for everyone.

Our folks complain that the education system is narrow, limited etc etc. While this is true to some extent, I feel that the task of expanding a child’s education falls more on the parents’ shoulders. We have the responsibility of widening our kids’ repertoire.

Students’ Problem Solving Skills

Students should be encouraged to solve problems in different ways, it makes them more creative and open minded. It might mean losing a mark or two during exams, but being open to try new things is a life skill that will be useful forever.

Also, why is the child losing his self-esteem or confidence because he cannot solve a few problems in an exam? This is such a sad situation. Is he getting too much pressure from himself, home or school, is he having the wrong expectation of himself or is he a perfectionist that needs psychological care and counseling?

Testing for Learning

Keeping a healthy mental state is so vital in the wholesome education of each precious child. On a daily basis, I receive SOS notes from parents of secondary two or three students from secondary schools that take in only gifted children. The pressure they face from the school and the home is unreasonable to say the least. And by the time they reach 14 or 15, they just switch off from the pressure and can no longer function properly as students.

Yet strangely, when I see signs and warn parents about this, most brush it off as something that can only happen to someone else’s kids. They justify why bad things won’t happen to their very capable kids.

If we believe that exams are meant to test the ability of a student, if we believe that students should not study to the test, and if we believe that kids should not be subjected to unnecessary pressure, then I believe that nobody should be able to answer all the questions in any exam. Some questions should be so difficult that only 1% or less of the cohort can answer.

This idea that a student must be taught before he learns is so limiting to the child and in fact, any person, especially as they move on to university studies and work. Who teaches us everything we need to know?

Conclusion

This idea that if we cannot do something, it is then someone else’s fault instead of finding a different path is so sad. Kids at such a young age should not be taught such entitlement.

As to what happened to the Youngest One in the SAT: I don’t know what questions he could not do, and how many he did not answer. I also cannot remember his scores. All I know is that his imperfect score got him into the university he wanted to go to but not the faculty he wanted. He then worked hard and transferred the next year to the course he wanted.

At 16, he is in his final year in the university and has sat many exams by now. There were times he came home saying he could not answer many questions, there were times he came home happy with his performance. He can get disappointed, but never devastated about his results enough to feel his self-esteem or confidence diminished. No matter how hard the paper is, it is not about the paper or the setter nor is it about him as a person.

Examination is about how a student has grown as a learner and as a person in handling the pressure, the learning process and the unexpected.

Failing an exam or a test does not make someone a failure. To ace in it is easy, to let it make our students better people is what we should aim to do.

Afterall, test and exam is really an important part of learning.

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