June 21, 2010


Exam time for students.

Yes, this is the last big exams the students in elementary and junior high school have for the year. I can’t speak for the other institutions (senior high, university, etc.), as I don’t teach at those institutions.

I remember in my years gone by, exam time was a horrible time of year. Some subjects, like math, had to be written whether you did well or not through the year. They were mandatory. Other subjects, depending on how well you did through the year, could earn you an exemption. Those were both treasured and envied.

Students make such a big deal about exams in this country. I should actually just say this city or even the schools that I teach at, but if my students are a sample indication, then I can only theorize that the same sentiments are felt everywhere.

From what I’ve understood after these many years, every single subject these students learn, is tested at the end of the year (as well as almost every two weeks DURING the year). There are no exemptions. Even my English Conversation classes are tested. The testing, in my opinion, is rather simple. Some teachers opt for the easy way – just ask the questions. I, personally, like to do more. After all, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, these are the best of the best in their grade levels. They should not only be able to answer a question, but should also be able to answer follow-up questions, or expand on their answers to a certain degree.

Today, in one of my classes, the students were given about 20 minutes of ‘free time’. This was the last class of the normal or regular school year, and since exams start in a couple of days, I figured they would use this time to study. No. They use it to freshen their make-up, take a nap, play around and yell like little children. Amazing. With the amount of free time these students get all day as it is, they still use this valuable time to play.

Had I known those so many years ago, that I would have ended up teaching, I may have decided to keep some of my old exams. Not only would it be interesting to look at them now, but I could also show the students of today what I went through, the work that was involved. Now, I’m not saying that students don’t study. I’m sure they do. I HOPE they do!

It also seems, and I could be wrong, that the students don’t get their exams returned to them. There is a posting of all their names listed, showing their placements from top score to bottom. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone scoring a failing mark. A failing mark to me would be 50%. I’ve seen a few high 70’s, low 80’s, but that’s about as low as I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, I have certainly given a much lower score.

I feel that learning a subject, and in particular a language, is a lot different than most other subjects. If one is serious about actually learning to speak another language, than it is more difficult, and therefore, the testing should be just as difficult. Not everyone asks exactly the same questions, and we certainly don’t give the exact same answer every time. Take a simple question like, “How are you?” One time the answer is, “Fine,” whereas another time might be, “Not bad.” It’s not like a math question where there is only one answer.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking other subjects that we learn. We learn these subjects for a reason. Some are apparent as we get older, where others are questioned. What is the use in knowing the area of circle? Who cares? Unless you are in a job or career where that knowledge is necessary. Then it was worth learning. My personal favourite subjects in school were math and music. Now, I am an English language teacher, teaching speakers of another language, to learn MY language! I don’t teach math nor music. So what was the use in learning and spending all my time studying math equations and formulas and learning the trombone?

If I remember properly, we only had, at the most, eight subjects to study for. Some, depending on who you were, were easier than others. Talking with my students today, I found out that they have ten subjects to write exams for. Some of the subjects, although translated for me, I still do not understand what the subject is, what is taught, and why it is necessary. One in particular that stands out is RATIONALIZATION. I honestly don’t remember THAT subject in school. I’ve certainly DONE this many, many times over my life, but I never had to write an exam or had to LEARN how to RATIONALIZE… Maybe we should!

To all (or any) of my students who may be reading this, I wish you all the best. I know that your parents will certainly make sure that you get your study time in before your exams. All your teachers at bushiban will also be helping you a lot. Study hard, do well, and get good grades. I know exam time is not an easy time. Get into studying well now, and as you get older, exam time will not be as daunting.

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