The waiting game: Students and teachers cope with waiting for exams

Minister of Education Anthony Garcia -
Minister of Education Anthony Garcia -


The countdown is on for students across the country who are waiting to sit exams.

Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) registrar Dr Wayne Wesley announced on May 15 that Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) exams will take place in July. Exams were originally scheduled for April-May.

Those pupils preparing to sit the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) may have to exercise even more patience, as their exam date is yet to be announced. The exam was originally set for April 1 and Minister of Education Anthony Garcia suggested it may not take place until December.

Teachers, students and their parents are more anxious than anything else to get them out of the way. Intense preparation for exams usually start months in advance and the added pressure of extending them have not been easy for those involved. There is also concern over how the extension will impact the new school year.

Newsday spoke to a few teachers and students on how they have been handling the wait and how they anticipate the extension will affect the upcoming school year.

The long road to SEA

A standard five teacher, who requested anonymity, is preparing her students for SEA. She conducted an informal survey of the 20 students in her class and 18 of them said they would have preferred to be back in school this month and sit the exam in early July.

She said for the most part, although her students are anxious to get the exam over with, in her experience it is always the parents who are more stressed than the students. “My students seem to be taking it in good stride.”

She said although it will comfort them to at least know when the exam will be held, she agrees with the approach to wait. “It’s the smart thing to do for a small country like us…We really have to wait and see.” What makes the situation concerning is the uncertainty, she added.

Eleven-year-old Micah O’Brien said he feels ready for the exam, whenever it may be. “I have good faith in myself. If I get nervous, my parents will calm me down.”

The Trinity East-hopeful joked that he would have appreciated the virus waiting until April to come to TT, giving him time to get SEA over with. “When we heard SEA was being postponed, we were bummed. We were preparing hard.” He said he has been following the situation in the news and thinks the government is doing a pretty good job in managing the virus, but the sooner he can sit his exam, the better.

His mother, Avalon Butcher said while she understands not having a date to look forward to can be stressful, she does not believe the government should rush. She explained that Micah, being asthmatic, is at risk of having a bad experience should he contract the virus. “I am fine with the wait. You have to weigh the risk versus the reward.”

Changes in CSEC exam model

While CSEC students may not have to wait as long, there are still issues surrounding their exams. A form five literature teacher explained that the changes in the exam model can have far reaching effects. The exam will now be presented in a multiple-choice format. “It is obscene,” she said. “You do not get a full appreciation of the students’ capacities, especially at this level. They themselves would not be able to appreciate their own capacities.”

Students have been preparing for a different format for months, which she said raises the issue of fairness. She said multiple choice users outside of the Caribbean, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) taken by high school students in the US, have prepared for that format. We have not.

She said her students feel as though they have wasted a lot of their time. “One of the greatest challenges is fear,” she said. “Those who do not have emotional support are panicking.”

The shortened school year

The standard five teacher suggested SEA students be allowed the opportunity to repeat, especially those who may struggle with a compacted syllabus. “That could mitigate the fallout of a shortened school year. She said there may be issues for some students to catch up on an entire term of work. “Some children could cram it down in six months and be fine. Others can’t.”

She said she tries to teach her students for the real world, not just SEA and people need to get over the idea that if you do not pass this one exam, you fail in life. “Failure doesn’t mean it’s the end…There’s no rule that says you have to do everything right now.”

The form five literature teacher said the effects of a shortened school year will be psychologically devastating for many students. She said students who are thinking about University outside of TT are particularly concerned. Students are asking how the lateness of CAPE exams would affect their admission into international schools. “We don’t have the answers. That is what causes the experience to be traumatic.”

While some students worry over the upcoming school year, others are taking it in stride. Form five student Isabella Edwards said if the exam was pushed back to September, she would not be too concerned. “We are in unprecedented times, so we just have to go with whatever happens.” She said she feels better about exams being set for July, because it gives her more time to prepare. “It hasn’t been too stressful,” she said, adding when she first found out about the postponement, she decided to pace herself.

Psychological support

Schools should introduce a psychological assessment for students entering the new year to determine if they can handle a compacted syllabus, said the form five teacher.

She said this should be implemented at university level as well. The transition from secondary to tertiary education is already like a hot water bath. “Students are never really prepared for change.” She added that even teachers will need psychological support. “Imagine teaching at home with children of your own? We all expect normalcy and if you can’t act normally, people will judge you and that can’t be right.”

The mother of form five student Isabella, Stacey Edwards also said her main concern is the overall psychological impact of the uncertainty. “I’m not sure they’ve really considered we’ve been waiting for two months, then on top of that to change the format?” She is concerned this will affect the mental health of students. Schools should consider that the CSEC experience is not only about the curriculum. “Students need some level of emotional support and guidance.”


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