The Senior School is in full examination-battle mode! The IB exams were the frontline, two year groups have just received results from internal exams, two year groups are on study leave, and we have just sent our next battalions into action as the Lower School students tackled their internal assessments this week. Armed with clear pencil cases, see-through water bottles, and calculators (without covers), we wave our troops off with fingers crossed and the occasional tear.

But isn’t this a careless analogy? Exams shouldn’t be seen as a conflict, should they? Possibly not, but that mentality certainly helped me. The examiners were my adversaries, and I was going to fight them until I was told to put my pen down. It became personal – I wanted to get every last mark out of each exam paper put in front of me, and any question I couldn’t answer was a painful victory to my faceless enemies.

It possibly wasn’t a healthy approach to exams… but it was a different century back then. In truth, today we try to encourage our students to embrace their exams as an opportunity to show what they know and possibly, dare I say it, ‘enjoy’ the challenge. But we all know it’s hard to enjoy something whose name alone strikes fear into the hearts of so many, and gurgles up uncomfortable memories for so many more. The word ‘exams’, or ‘examinations’, unsurprisingly stems from Latin: ‘examinare’, meaning, amongst other things, to judge. There’s a certain irony here: at The Abbey we make efforts with all age groups in teaching them not to be overly judgemental, socially or academically, at the same time spending 14+ years preparing them to be judged themselves!

So why do we, as civilised nations across the world, put our young people through these nerve-wracking exam seasons? Conventional thought suggests that examinations benefit societies, as they enforce high standards on their education systems. Learning and applying knowledge and skills potentially prepares young people for the world of work, and the exam pressure possibly simulates the stress that they may face in future dynamic and pressured environments. 

But I’m not fully convinced. During the Covid years, teacher-assessed grades replaced exams and I’m not sure that students were less prepared for their future lives, or any less well-educated. There was one thing that they certainly did lack, which may well have been of detriment to some of them at university – the experience of sitting exams!


With all information so readily available, at a click of a button or the swipe of a finger, and employers valuing soft skills and hard work over regurgitation, we might witness the end of school exams as we know them in coming years, though current governments, or indeed governments in waiting, have made very few noises to this effect. So, for now, we are stuck with them and the battles will rage on.

Needless to say, we hope all of our students taking or having sat exams are kind to themselves in the coming weeks, and wish them the very best of luck. That said, they and their teachers have worked so hard and with such enthusiasm that luck will hopefully play no part.

George Morton, Deputy Head