Learning for exams is also learning for life

Serangoon Garden Secondary School students reacting after getting their O-level exam results last year. The key to doing well in an exam is to know what is required and then to work consistently towards it, says the writer. If you do not do well at f
Serangoon Garden Secondary School students reacting after getting their O-level exam results last year. The key to doing well in an exam is to know what is required and then to work consistently towards it, says the writer. If you do not do well at first, use scores and teachers' comments as feedback for future improvement.ST FILE PHOTO

Skills you gain can be useful after graduation, while test scores can serve as data to help you improve

Just like life, education is a continuous journey for all of us.

What you learn in school today is not only useful for scoring in examinations, but is also knowledge that will come in useful after you graduate and join the workforce.

Examination or test scores are often viewed as an end in themselves - an indication of how you have performed for a particular subject. But there is another way to view these scores - as information, data and feedback for improvement.

Scores are just a way to give you an indication of where you are now, and how much you need to adjust to reach your final goal.

For example, if there were a machine to tell you how many centimetres you missed the hoop by when you shoot a basketball, you could use that information as an indication of how well you shoot or use it to adjust your shot.

When we see assessments as feedback for future improvement, it is known as assessment for learning.

This applies to any school-based assessments - such as continual assessments and mid-year or end-of-year exams - which, ideally, should serve as vital learning experiences so that candidates can do better in major exams such as the O levels.

 

Even then, studying for the O-level exams itself can be a learning experience for life.

Take the O-level English oral communication component for example. It makes up 20 per cent of a candidate's O-level English score, but not many students prepare for it in a systematic way.

There is more than reading and speaking for this assessment.

The O-level oral communication exam rubrics state six broad areas that a candidate needs to do well in:

• reading with awareness of purpose, audience and context;

• reading with clear pronunciation and articulation;

• reading with appropriate pace and fluency;

• answering questions with well-developed and coherent responses;

• answering questions with well-chosen vocabulary and sentence structures; and

• being able to sustain a discussion by introducing new ideas, issues and opinions.

These rules were carefully designed to be applicable in real life, such that if a candidate can meet the requirements well, he would not only be able to score well in the exam, but also become a good speaker and conversationalist in his school, social and even future work settings.

After knowing what is required, the next step should then be to hone each skill required, consistently and over a long period, until he becomes better at them.

While last-minute intensive studying for exams is common for many, it is near-impossible to improve one's pronunciation and articulation of words within a few weeks or months.

The key is to know certain tools, such as using the International Phonetic Alphabet or the Google dictionary function - to determine the precise way to pronounce new words as you encounter them.

When we see assessments as feedback for future improvement, it is known as assessment for learning. This applies to any school-based assessments, which, ideally, should serve as vital learning experiences so that candidates can do better in major exams such as the O levels.

Even teachers can learn new things through such tools.

For example, Google's search engine can be a good way to determine which syllable of a word to stress - an essential part of speaking well because English is a stress-timed language, where certain syllables in words are stressed more than others.

In fact, depending on which syllable you stress, you can change the meaning of a word. If you stress the first syllable of "object", you are referring to its noun form, as in, "a table is an object". If you stress the second syllable, you are referring to its verb form, as in "I object to the new rules".

This is different fromAsian languages such as Mandarin or Vietnamese, which are tonal languages - the same word can have vastly different meanings if you change its tone.

Just making it a point to stress the correct syllables in words can make a world of difference in whether you sound precise while speaking.

Then there is the requirement of knowing how to introduce new ideas, topics and opinions in a discussion. The best way to hone this skill is for students to constantly engage in conversation with family and friends and talk about topics that matter to them.

Being aware of current affairs then becomes immensely helpful, because what is there to talk about if one does not know anything that is happening in the world?

Therefore, to be able to sustain a conversation by introducing one's personal opinions, as required in the exam, it pays to be apprised of the latest news.

The key to doing well in an exam is, therefore, to know what is required and then to work consistently towards it. If you do not do well at first, use scores and teachers' comments as feedback for future improvement.

Adopting the correct methods and attitudes towards learning and preparation for exams can be not only more meaningful and less stressful, but alsomore applicable in the real world. Students who do this over time will find that they can improve their assessment scores and also acquire useful life skills.

One day, learners may even realise that exam scores may in fact mean less to them than the skills they have acquired in the process of preparing for those exams.


• David Tay, a teaching specialist in ST Schools, will be conducting the first-ever ST masterclass for English oral examination for O-level students on March 12 and 13, during the school holidays. Students who wish to sign up can log on to http://str.sg/STclass

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2018, with the headline 'Learning for exams is also learning for life'. Print Edition | Subscribe