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Cramming v. Critical


Good pass rates for national exams are the primary goal for most schools; they’re the biggest influencer in the school’s business success.  And make no mistake about it, schools are run as a business today – and like any business, results count.


Look at any secondary school’s promotional material and what leads the headlines?  Pass rates and university places.  This is what the school depends on to persuade parents to choose them for their child.


As a parent you expect the school to lead the way for your child’s academic future.  They’re an educational institution so you assume they’ll educate.  The school sees their role as an educator – primarily in academic subjects.  Subjects like critical thinking, communication skills, time management and other life and business skills are way down the list.


There was funding for critical thinking in schools – but no more – and that’s left a gap in the curriculum for developing this kind of skill.  However, it’s an essential life-skill for anyone who wants to achieve success – either academically or in business.


So what is critical thinking?  It covers observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem-solving, and decision making.


Any scientist will tell you that this is an essential process or series of processes, to explore any scientific area.

Any manager will use this on a daily basis to ensure the company continues to grow and develop.

Writers use it to develop plots.

Artists use it to create new concepts.

Despite the academic’s claim that it is a ‘soft’ skill and too difficult to assess – consider exam questions that include the phrase ‘Discuss the impact of X on Y when Z happens’, if that’s not critical thinking, I don’t know what is!


It’s only a month or so since the A level results came out.if you were listening to the news, there were plenty of students expounding on how difficult these were as the exams were all based on being able to remember everything they’d learned in the past two years.  There was no course-work, interim exams (like AS levels) or assignment that contributed to their marks – it was all down to their ability to remember a string of facts.


The problem is that to succeed with this kind of approach, there’s a real danger that students will simply ‘cram’ information into their heads, just to pass the exam.  As long as they can recite the facts, they don’t need a thorough understanding.  Unfortunately, this means they’re using their short-term memory to do this – and often can’t recall the information a few months later.


A century ago the profession of ‘Crammer’ was one that the middle classes were very familiar with.  Families with poorer performing offspring would often pay a Crammer to get their less academic children through the exams that gave them entry to scholarships and universities.


Whilst this approach may get the kids through their exams and give the schools a glowing reputation for academic excellence, is it going to benefit the students in the future?