The Art of Exams

There’s a lot of takeaways in Sharon Hartle’s new blog post, THE ART OF GATHERING… EVEN FOR EXAMS. I think assessment and examinations are a neglected topic in TESOL/EFL circles. Particularly in a world where examinations are necessary, there’s rarely much reflection on what exams mean and their purpose.

As Sharon writes, too often we think of exams as a form of assessment. The goal seems to be to judge. We take it for granted that some people will fail. We assume exams should be stressful and unpleasant. However, this (unconscious) attitude to examination does little to help our students pass those same exams.

Looking at exams as a form of objective ranking leads to more stress on the part of our students. I was shocked to read that Sharon had taken an exam in which the results were given publicly. Examiners were coming out of the oral examination room and telling candidates the results in front of the whole group. Very demoralizing to the student and to those who haven’t taken the exam yet!

However, we can change our attitude. We can think of exams as a gathering (See Sharon’s post to understand what she means by this term) and the purpose of exams as getting our students to do their best. Then, we might do more to help students not feel anxious. Perhaps the waiting area for the oral exams could be more comfortable and those who have finished the test could be separated from those who have not taken it yet.

Personally, I always appreciate teachers that acknowledge that a final exam can be stressful. It’s nice to have a chance to take a deep breath before the exam begins, or have the teacher crack a few jokes and lighten the mood a bit.

It’s worth checking out the original post to see all of Sharon’s thoughts, but feel free to share some of the ways you help students do well on exams in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post, check out Sharon’s book:

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