Exams as a measure of Intelligence
With A Level results coming out this week, just what will they tell us about the intelligence of those children coming through our schools? The answer - not a lot. They will tell us how hard they’ve worked and how much they have learnt, but their marks will not define intelligence. Part of the fault is the exam itself. Criticised by teachers for excessive prescription and content, by universities for not developing independent and critical thinking and by industry for failing to nurture initiative, problem solving and communication skills, students soon learn that to do well, they have to play the long game, and follow the rules laid down by teachers the best of whom are the skilled at teaching to the test. And if you are one of those curious souls who wants to go off piste, be warned, you will be told there is no time for that. After sitting A Levels a former student with offers to Cambridge and Harvard spoke out in frustration and anger against its focus on memorisation, ticking boxes and ironing out childrens idiosyncracies. Arguably her A levels results were one measure of her applied intelligence; her perceptive comments about their limitations, quite another.
Adding to the criticism of universities and employers, (and A levels should not necessarily serve either master) there is the deleterious effect of Ebacc on creative subjects when Artificial Intelligence is already telling us it is the human related and creative jobs - nurses, carers coders and so on that we will require in the future. As a means of measuring students, A Levels leave large numbers of our intelligent students on the outer, including those who don’t see university as their desired destination. And yet although we shouldn’t ignore the impact of good schools and bad schools, the effect of tutors for those who can afford them and money in general, we shouldn’t belittle the efforts of students and their achievements, for A Levels, IB and, at a stretch, the Cambridge PreU)are the best measures we’ve got. But let’s avoid talking intelligence which is one of those loaded words, a mere lump of clay of a word , useless until worked. What is important is applied intelligence. How do we recognise the intelligent child who is brilliant at a single talent? coding? Music? Chess? Or the intelligent, but bored, frustrated child who is completely unmotivated by a curriculum that they cannot engage with. How do we recognise these other intelligences?
With an examination system which predicates university as the final destination what of the 14% of SEND students who we continue to measure by assessing them through the very medium they struggle with. Or second language students? Or students in areas where university is never an aspiration and A Levels an irrelevancy? One hopes, as AI develops we will have different tools to measure intelligence, that will grow rather than diminish horizions, but at present our one size fits all model ignores a diminishing number for whom A Levels are a distraction as much as a barrier.
There are also those who are simply not ready for exams, for readiness applies as much at eighteen as at five. Or those who are creative, but whose skills and talents are not easily measurable and there are numerous examples of those who failed at School and yet excelled afterwards, even in academia. Amanda Foreman comes to mind as one who failed her A Level English and again at a crammer, had to go abroad to do her undergraduate degree and ended up with a Doctorate from Oxford and the Whitbread Prize for literature
course, outstanding examination results come from hard work, organisation, good
teaching and applied intelligence, but as a rule, in education, intelligence is
a word to be avoided, for its bias, its reliance on data, its intellectual
snobbery and what it does to expectations. We should celebrate examination
results, albeit being mindful of their cost in mental health and the influence
of the school experience, but not muddy the waters by telling us that they
(An extended transcript of an ITV article / vlog, 16 August, 2018)