Friday the 13th is dreaded by many since in Western superstition, it’s considered an unlucky day. For me, however, it has always been a lucky day, especially when important events came into play. So when taking an exam on this notorious day, I invariably did very well.
Earlier today, I got hold of the results of the written part of the final state exam my senior students took last week. It was a two-part piece of writing consisting of a 150-word magazine article (a film review) and a 70-word informal e-mail. All students in the Czech Republic wrote the same composition, which was later corrected by specially trained English teachers all over the country . I’m happy to announce that in my class, all the students passed the exam with flying colors – a couple of them even achieved the maximum score and the lowest score was 88.8%, which is still grade A. In other classes, the results were equally astonishing.
This is not the first time it has happened. Our students generally do very well on the final exam. I should stress that the papers are not corrected by me or my colleagues. Every year, the writings are sent to CERMAT (an organization appointed by the Ministry of Education), which hires secondary English teachers for this rather strenuous job. There are two teachers at our school who have contracts with CERMAT, but they never get the compositions of our own students. Nevertheless, since they correct papers from other schools, we can compare the quality of students’ writing across various types of secondary schools.
Although we have no doubts regarding fair play, the curious thing is that the students with the lowest scores (88.8%) are those who would generally pass their mock exams with much lower scores – usually 60-70%. This makes me wonder …..
1) Are we too strict when grading our own students’ writing? Well, I don’t think so. Students at our institution are supposed to graduate at a B1 level, but this is a bar too low for them. Many of them actually achieve a B2 level. In my view, our students are bound to be more proficient than students from other (types of) secondary schools, for example, the vocational ones, where the focus is on practical experience.
2) Are the teachers from other (types of) schools less demanding than we are, then? Might be. One’s demands are always relative to the quality of writing they encounter as regular teachers. This is regardless of the fact that CERMAT trains their people so that they are as objective as possible. But teachers aren’t robots, are they?
3) Do we challenge and stress out our students too much during their studies? Well, there is a saying: What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle. If you revealed how easy the exam is right at the beginning, some students might get the feeling there’s no need to work hard. And this, by no means, is what we want to happen; we want them to believe that there’s always a lot to improve.
I’m convinced that this is the best scenario. A bit of suspense constantly encourages our students to work on their language skills. In the end, they get a sweet reward, which, however, comes from an outer source, not from us. This, I guess, makes it even sweeter and more valuable.