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DR MAX PEMBERTON: Only the smug rich can afford to claim exams don’t count

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Not many people like exams. Over the years I’ve sat down on dozens of things and believe me, I’ve loathed them all. So I imagine there was cheer last week over Tony Blair’s suggestion to scrap GCSEs and A-levels and replace them with permanent evaluation.

This feels a little rich from Sir Tony, who went to private school and who certainly didn’t mind sending his kids to prestigious schools where the importance of exams was emphasized.

But that’s the problem with the chat lessons; these kinds of fashionable ideas are always good for other people’s children – just not for their own.

Besides, it’s all well and good to advocate for exam scrapping if you come from an eminently wealthy and well-connected family.

Tony Blair’s last week proposed scrapping GCSEs and A-levels and replacing them with permanent evaluation

Unlike Sir Tony’s children, I did not have a father who was a multi-millionaire former prime minister. Mine was a milkman. Exams were a gateway for me to change my social circumstances.

Sir Tony’s proposal also goes against everything we know about the benefits of research from a neurological perspective.

Yes, they are exhausting. But we know that the material learned for exams lingers in the memory much better than when it is continuously assessed.

We have to record things in memory. As Nick Gibb MP, former Minister for School Standards, stated: ‘Without stored knowledge we are unable to perform higher level intellectual activities such as critical thinking or complex calculations because working memory is limited in its capacity and must be able to to automatically draw on knowledge acquired over the years.’

dr.  Max Pemberton (pictured) says the material learned for exams sticks in the mind much better than when it's continuously graded

dr. Max Pemberton (pictured) says the material learned for exams sticks in the mind much better than when it’s continuously graded

I can see why students don’t like exams. The tedious hours of cramming facts into your head, the practice papers, the Post-It notes scattered around your bedroom, followed by the dreaded day itself. The last-minute rush to the toilet, the nervous line of pens and pencils, the invigilator looking at you as you watch the clock ticking until the time for the exam is due. “Turn over your exam papers and get started.” ugh! It’s the stuff of nightmares.

I am currently studying for a degree in geriatric medicine which means I have been revising and taking exams for over 30 years now.

But despite taking decades of my life with them, looking back, I’m glad I took them with me. Exams instilled in me a discipline and academic rigor that I simply wouldn’t have had had I been graded along the way.

Recently, I diagnosed a person with a life-threatening heart condition caused by a prescription drug. My cardiology exam was 20 years ago and much of what I learned has long been forgotten. But by memorizing so much, I got a good, solid foundation, and I’ve kept many of the important bits of information. Thanks to that boring old exam, I saved someone’s life.

I definitely wouldn’t have bothered to learn it all if I hadn’t had the prospect of an exam coming my way all those years ago, and those hours I spent revising pay off time and again as I patients see.

There’s nothing like one big exam to focus your mind. Yes, they are difficult and boring. But in addition to the knowledge you memorize, they also hone other invaluable skills: attention, focus and dedication.

We all know this, we really do. Every time I get on a plane or go to a doctor or speak to a lawyer, I’m glad they passed exams. It would be perverse to claim otherwise.

But the liberal elite wants us to pretend exams don’t matter. Delete them. Everyone should have prizes.

In the same vein, it has become fashionable to reassure children that their grades don’t matter.

Of course, some managed to make it in life, despite terrible traces. But they are in the small minority.

For the vast majority of children from poorer families, good grades are a passport to their situation. They are social mobility in action. But again, it’s not fashionable to say that.

However, is this a surprise? If your career path is eased by a few phone calls to the right people to get your work experience and then a job, it doesn’t matter what grades you get.

No one’s father’s boyfriend ever asked for a GCSE certificate before setting up an internship. But if your only way to get ahead in life is with brains and hard work, those scraps of paper can be the difference between climbing the ladder and staying put.

The liberal Lefty view that they mean nothing does a huge disservice to those most in need of a stepping stone in life.

The school run is vital for fathers

Prince William must run the school when his family moves to Windsor.  He is pictured here with his three children: George, Charlotte and Louis

Prince William must run the school when his family moves to Windsor. He is pictured here with his three children: George, Charlotte and Louis

Prince William must run the school when his family moves to Windsor. He is said to be determined to be there for his three children when they grow up. What a wonderful example he sets. I have often been struck by his devotion to fatherly duties – take, for example, how he interacted with his children at various events during the summer, entertained them when their attention wandered, and gently chided them when they misbehaved. For many children, their father is a distant figure – if he is involved at all in their lives. The Prince is the kind of role model young men need: someone who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the mundane things, like taking the kids to school every morning.

A police officer has called the bluff of eco-warriors occupying tunnels at an oil refinery in Essex. They complained that their lives were at stake when police reopened the road above, but Assistant Chief Commissioner Glen Pavelin replied that they were “welcome to come out at any time.” Hooray for common sense!

  • Lockdown and working from home have led to an increase in porn addiction, with the number of people seeking help doubling compared to 2019. This type of addiction is interesting because it is not the same as a physical dependence, where we can provide substitutions (such as methadone in heroin addiction) to the person gently rid of the substance in question. However, my concern about “medicalizing” this kind of behavior is that it takes away any sense of agency and control from the user.

DR MAX PRESCRIPTION…

DOWNTON SHABBY

dr.  Max Pemberton says Downton Shabby was one of his favorite summer books because it's

dr. Max Pemberton says Downton Shabby was one of his favorite summer books because it’s “laughable out loud” but also a story about doing something unexpected and risky

This was one of my favorite summer reads – a true story of Hopwood DePree, a Hollywood producer, who decides to give up Tinseltown and move to the UK to renovate his childhood home; a crumbling, 60-room, Grade II listed mansion near Rochdale. It’s laughably funny, but also a story about doing something unexpected and risky. It is an edifying lesson in the joy of throwing caution to the wind.

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