Exam Reform

The current disaster with A-Level results is creating chaos in the British education system. I find it interesting to compare the Chinese gaokao final examinations with the British A-Level system and how both have had to cope with Covid-19. Both systems are designed to be main entry point to the university system and both hold examinations at the beginning of summer.

The main difference has been that the United Kingdom have scrapped examinations for this year but China postponed them by a month. You can argue that the Chinese had more time to sort something out as their crisis was the first to start in the global pandemic. It is also easier for the Chinese to reschedule, as all their examinations happen on two days. Instead of completing them on 7th and 8th June, Chinese students completed them on 7th and 8th July. The British system can take over a month and has many scheduling complications.

I’m not going to argue about which system is academically better but which system is easier to administer. The main criticism of the Chinese system is that it puts massive pressure on students to be ready for a specific date. If you are unwell on one of those days then it can seriously affect your future life. Another argument is that it is easier for the Chinese system to administer examinations as there is only one examination board. This beggars the question why the UK have five, even though they have 1/10 of the amount of students annually taking the examinations compared to China. There are arguments for keeping the amount of examination boards but there is no real reason why we must have multiple exam board – this is a choice, we could just have one.

There will be calls for examination reform after this current fiasco. There may be no change as we can all blame Covid-19. But we could simplify the British system so that if things go wrong it won’t adversely affect hundreds of thousands of young people. I think any system should have examinations that do not last longer than a school week. There should only be one examination board. The system should be leaner, clearer and easier for parents to understand. If the Chinese can get 10 million children to do their exams over two days, I am sure we can get 800,000 children to do theirs in less than five.