Is 100% in an exam good enough?
Now, I realize that my title is provocative in a sense, but it is a reference to the attitudes prevalent, in Singapore, and some other parts of Asia (I see quite a lot of it in Malaysia, too), in which only perfect marks are deemed acceptable. Yet, I see a problem with the idea of a student getting 100% in an exam. What do you think? Do you think it is a good idea if a student gets 100% in an exam?
I ask, for a reason. Fintan, my seven year old son, returned home a few days ago, with his maths exam paper in tow. Written on it, in big red handwriting was: “100%”. Fintan was quite happy about this – and so I was I, but I admit my feelings were mixed. You see what does it mean that Fintan got 100% in maths? Does it mean he is superb at maths? Or does it mean something else, too?
Now, the first thing I did when Fintan told me his result was to congratulate him. Yet, behind my smiling eyes, there was a thought I did not express: if a student, ANY student gets 100% in an exam, it just means that they are not being challenged – the level of work does not meet the level of their ability. So, actually, when this is realized, it can be seen that 100% is actually a kind of bad news. It means that the student is not advancing in their work, at the pace they could be: their abilities are being underchallenged.
So, it is true that Fintan is very good at the maths he is asked to do, in school – but it is equally true, that he could easily do a lot harder work, than he is being asked to do. Fintan is cruising along in maths, on his great ability in that area. Now, I have no idea how much more challenging maths he could deal with – but I am sure that it is a lot more than he is going to see in school, in the next few years.
The next time your child comes home with 100% in their exams, reflect, therefore, that this is a very clear sign, that your child is not being taught at an appropriate level. It would be better if that child was getting 60 or 70%, for that would show that they were coping with the level, but that they were still at a level at which they could learn. It would actually be a healthier indicator of a good match between the child and the challenge.
So 100% in an exam is definitely not good enough. Be pleased, instead, if your child’s grades are less than perfect: it means they can still learn from that class – and be concerned if they are getting 100% or nearly so, for that means they are most definitely not able to learn any more at that level of academic challenge.
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