Do exam results actually matter? Yes it matters, but it is not all that matters really. If one wishes to pursue success only in exams then they probably do matter, but if one has access to alternative opportunity structures or if they want to reject the ordinary success goals of society, then they probably matter a whole lot less.
Exams are important and they always will be. Good, demanding qualifications open doors to higher study and to fulfilling lives, so of course we back the government’s drive to raise standards and encourage success in them. Qualifications are a good proxy for the knowledge and skills that young people need. We should think of them as stepping-stones to a bright and successful future for those who achieve them. But they do not, and will never, completely define the sum total of what a good education ought to provide. Nor are they a binary predictor that someone will succeed or fail in career; ambition and aspiration backed by hard work are better predictors of success in career than any single result on one exam on one day.
But, broader, deeper learning rather than exam results in isolation should be the goal. Nevertheless, in recent years, exams have been given such a significance that they are in danger of undermining the very thing they are designed to encourage – a high quality broad based education that prepares people for life. That over-emphasis leads to a “pressure cooker environment” with students finding it difficult to cope with the extraordinary levels of stress associated with taking exams. Sometimes parents also contribute to this stress, with the best of intention.
Resilience, creativity, ethical values and an ability to work effectively with others, are also vital outcomes of a rounded education; they enable success in life, not only the work place. Of course exams are an important hurdle to get over it doesn’t mean that one don’t have a lot to offer and one can still be just as successful, if not more. Passion, determination and confidence can be just as effective to build a great career.