Secondary school: those whirlwind years of confusion, stress and learning that we’re all obliged to attend. The early years are deceptively easy, making you feel like secondary school life will continue to be a breeze. But then… BOOM, GCSE’s hit you like a ton of bricks. Feeling completely unprepared, you are intimidated by these first serious exams in your life. Just to intensify these feelings of hopelessness, I (alongside all other year elevens in 2017), were subject to the introduction of a new GCSE system.
So, what’s changed?
The promise of more ‘challenging’ and ‘intellectually engaging’ exams did not fill me with any confidence. The new 1 to 9 system allows for ‘top achievers’ to be rewarded, with a grade 9 reserved for students working above the current A*, leaving the rest of us in the dust of mediocre sounding fives and fours (the equivalent to C grades). Coursework has also pretty much disappeared, leaving entire grades reliant on the performance in a few exams, meaning one hiccup could transform your entire result. To prevent this from happening, I recall stocking up on multivitamins and shovelling in cough sweets and flu medicine at any sign of illness. Yes, GCSE’s make you do crazy things.
Was I just a guinea pig?
Admittedly, I feel a little like a lab rat; put through numerous tests and exams- 28 to be exact (Yes, that many!)- as the government tested the water, dipping their toes into this new education system before implementing the 1 to 9 grading in all subjects. As it was the first year, all subjects had been supposedly made more difficult however, only English and Maths were graded using the new, numerical system. Frustratingly, this means we will be the only generation armed with a combination of letters and numbers as we approach the working world, with following years now receiving strictly numerical marks. I am not alone in feeling this is slightly unfair, as many concerns have been raised in the difficulty of understanding this bizarre cocktail of numbers and letters, as future employers and universities may struggle to decipher the code. Many of us worry that this may hinder future applications, putting us at a disadvantage of previous and following generations.
‘Back in my day…’
You’ve heard it all before: older relatives in complete disbelief when you argue that exams have gotten harder since their childhood. The inevitable line ‘you’ve got it so easy these days, when I was your age…’ followed promptly by your compulsory eye roll. However, I am firm in the belief that this generation has it much harder. Regardless of how biased my age makes me, previous generations were not subjected these constant changes, allowing for a straightforward approach to qualifications. These days, not only do we have to understand how synapses work and what Shakespeare meant when he wrote ‘to be or not to be…’, we also have to get our head round how the actual system works. Previously, a simple exam for each subject was the usual method, but now our education is adorned with coursework, extra activities and multiple exams just for one subject.
The blind leading the blind
Even teachers appear to be caught in this vortex of confusion. At my school, they started teaching us the wrong GCSE course before realising that the curriculum had now changed, wasting precious learning time. Just to make matters worse, no guidance was provided for teachers or students from exam boards- with no previous results there were no mock papers or model answers to learn from, no mark schemes or pilot studies to signpost our way to success. Whilst previous years approached an exam with a general idea to direct them through the nightmare, we were left clueless, lost in the perplexing realm of exam season.
Everything is changing
Growing up, I feel like my generation has been plunged into an ever-evolving period of change. Just to add to the mounting reconstructions of older systems, GCSE reforms have been swiftly followed by changes to the current driving test structure. From demonstrating the ability to use a sat nav, to testing your driving skills on motorways; the new requirements for obtaining a pass have been customised to the modern era of technology and high-speed roads.
Unlike educational reforms, these seem appropriate and necessary to ensure all drivers are well equipped for tackling the roads independently. Many people (including myself) remain in the dark as to why the changes to GCSE’s are needed; the old system of A’s and B’s had few faults, so why this modernisation was required is beyond me. However, it is crucial for new drivers to be educated in the ways of the current roads.
Even if all these changes feel overwhelming, much of it stands as essential. Let’s just hope that we get taught the correct skills in our driving lessons…
Despite all my grumbling and groaning, I was able to achieve a good set of results. I was lucky enough to go to a school where the teachers did everything they could to prepare us as much as possible for our journey into the unknown. Unfortunately, not everyone was as fortunate, with more students than previous years requiring to retake the all-important English and Maths GCSE’s. I hope, for their sake, that following generations start to see some of the promised benefits of these reformed GCSE’s. For those of you approaching your exams in the coming year, I wish you the best of luck, and pray that the misty fog of confusion that shrouded our exams has begun to clear, giving you a clearer idea of what to expect. As for driving, I aim to tackle some lessons soon (so wish me luck!), and hope that the new driving test style will be clearer and more straightforward than these befuddling new GCSEs.