Tuesday, 12 September 2017

IGCSEs: What's the Point Anyway?

So we've only just started the new term, and already it's all about adjusting.  Before Eldest's summer exams he was working flat out, getting up early and working long hours, and I promised him that after the exams were over he could sleep as late as he liked for the rest of the summer.  He certainly took me up on that promise, in typical teen style - and has grown at least a couple of inches meanwhile so I guess it's been helpful.  It's not easy for him having to get used to studying to a timetable again though, or for me dealing with it, and I have already had to check my attitude.  It's so tempting to wish he could just carry on doing the fun stuff that I'm doing with Middle and Youngest.

I mean, what IS the point of IGCSEs anyway?  It's a much more boring way of studying than we used to enjoy and it's not actually proper learning in my opinion: I'm sure Eldest has already forgotten plenty of the Maths & Geography information that he crammed in temporarily for the June exams.  It's just pointlessly hard slog, isn't it?  Eldest and I can both can get pretty fed up with the whole ordeal, even this early on in term.

The obvious answer is that these seemingly pointless tests do actually have value - albeit in a limited way.  They are a gateway to doing what he wants to do.  At present Eldest wants to study A levels and then go to university.  There are cases of Home Educators who have gone to Uni without GCSEs or A levels, but I don't know if that included Science degrees, and Eldest and I felt that this was the best route for us.  So if cramming temporary knowledge for exams is what is needed, then that is what we will have to do.

And then I remind myself that even if he may not be learning much of permanence that is subject-based, he IS learning some really important skills for a lifetime.  Last month when we were expecting him to fail because of our joint rookie mistakes I reminded Eldest (and myself) of all that he had achieved regardless of the results of the days' testing.  As blogged previously, studying for exams rather than for pleasure caused him to grow in resilience, perseverence and maturity.  Unpleasant challenges can cause us to grow in character (if we let them) and to be honest that is far more valuable than whether or not we remember how to calculate using the irrational root of an integer.  So we are already reviewing some of these lessons, with more opportunities to develop character and approach tasks that we don't enjoy. Not the most fun to be had, but probably the most value.

So practically speaking that has taken us to some false-starts already this term. Firstly in English, where Eldest does NOT enjoy the subject - despite being an avid reader and creative-thinker, he finds it very hard to apply those skills in the way needed to master it as an academic subject and so has a significant barrier to overcome for every task required.  Life Lesson no. 1 right there: a negative attitude can make progress impossible but persistence and a good attitude reap huge results. Secondly in Biology the tasks are less of an issue than the sheer volume of work - there are a LOT of facts and concepts to learn, and we need to learn from the mistakes we made last year, and take better notes etc from the beginning. Note-taking is a skill in itself - and not one that comes naturally to him, so this is where we have hit life lesson no. 2: the work you invest up front makes your life so much easier when the pressure is on further down the line.

Life-lessons are the hardest to learn and I can't think of any that are instant.  And this is what I keep reminding myself whenever Eldest (or I) want to quit.  It's been difficult for him to transition from lazy summer-holiday mode back into hard-work mode, and if it gets too much I allow him a break to calm down and then we come back to it an hour or so later.  We have had to adapt and re-adapt our initial planned timetable, and are not at all on-track with the first one we drew up, but it's all good.  I am trusting that we will find our stride much earlier this time round than last year (when we never really found it, tbh).  So we have already faced opportunity for discouragement but are not going to give up - just adapt and keep moving on. Hopefully by the next blog post we'll be making steady progress. Meanwhile we are about to draw up Plan C (or is it D?) and are getting closer to the solution with every adjustment.

So basically the mantra I am rapidly adopting is that the point of IGCSEs is not so much about learning the subjects themselves - although they do have temporary value - but more about learning the life-lessons that studying for testing provides.  It seems to be mostly about growing up - learning to go through not-so-nice stuff in order to get to the goal you are aiming for... taking on some difficult challenges and allowing that process of growing through trials to work its magic.  So I will correct my attitude for the umpteenth time, as my wodnerful teen is also having to do, and we will press on and ultimately conquer.  Bring on the IGCSEs (again)!

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