IT’S amazing that in 2022, in one of the most advanced, developed countries in the world, our education system still judges success and failure with a simple letter – A, B or C, or in my case, N and U.
I failed my exams, but I’d argue that exams failed me. They crushed my spirit.
Let me be clear. Education and exam excellence are vital for those who plan to follow vocational work into the sciences or medicine.
Work hard and you will rise to the top of academia and become the next great doctor or scientist. But it is not one size fits all.
We are not all destined to be physicists or brain surgeons.
Learning and education are key in life, but our obsession with exams as a means of testing and qualifying an individual is as archaic as it is broken.
Let me share with you my own experience.
I was incredibly privileged. My parents worked hard and sent me to a private school which I loved.
My school was amazing. My teachers were brilliant. My classes were inspiring.
I LOVED my education, but I hated exams. I buckled under the pressure. I was hopeless.
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There are some people who are better equipped for absorbing and cramming information and then regurgitating it on command, which is what exams require.
But in just the same way that some people are brilliant at the 100m while others are better at marathons, some simply can’t do sport. The same goes for exams.
Exams are an unfair marker of our talent and ability.
When I look at my children, I reflect on their personality, their kindness, their interest, their ability to interact, sociability, curiosity, thoughtfulness.
We are so much more than an exam grade.
Exams are an unfair marker of our talent and ability
For many years, my exam grades made me feel inadequate. I felt like a failure, despite my ability to excel and achieve in other areas.
For me, the pressure of expectation at such a vulnerable part of my life crushed my spirit.
There will be those who argue that exams are an important preparation for the pressures of life in an increasingly crowded world with more people chasing the same jobs, but I disagree.
Of course there are moments of pressurised decision making in life. I have had more than my fair share in the death zone while climbing Everest or while rowing across the Atlantic.
But I can assure you I have never had to drop everything and write an essay In front of an invigilator on the merits of ethereal writing in Romeo and Juliet.
I would prefer my children to learn the school of life. Rather than exams, I’d prefer they learn how to grow crops, cook healthily and how to do DIY. Real life skills.
We are so much more than letters, we should be championing individuality.
And if you are in any doubt about your ability to rise above the failure of exams, despite my terrible grades and my dyslexia, I have gone on to publish more than 15 books, totalling more than a million published words, of which 7 have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
It’s amazing what a great copy editor and spellcheck can do.
The department of education needs to focus on fostering young lives not hitting league table targets.
We are so much more than letters, we should be championing individuality
If you have failed your exams today, don’t be too despondent. We live in a world where there is always another way.
You just have to be creative and use your initiative – it will get you further than any As. Be the shepherd not the sheep. Stand out from the crowd and own it.
I’d far prefer to work with someone who is eager, keen and interested, than a robot who can repeat what they have been told under exam conditions.
Exams instill a notion of competition too early. It is not survival of the smartest but of the most versatile and resourceful. We want all rounders.
Let’s not crush spirits before they have had a chance to sparkle.
The key of course are the real heroes. The teachers. Underpaid and under resourced.
They should be the pillars of our community teaching for life, not for league tables.