An article on the front page of today’s Sunday Times claims a pupil retook their Maths A-Level 29 times. Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA exam board, cited this pupil’s repetitive exam experience as an extreme example of “retake culture”. Ofqual, the exams regulator, is currently calling for there to be a limit of one resit for each paper. According to the Sunday Times, “critics argue that the ability to resit exams an unlimited number of times is a prime reason for grade inflation and a drain on school budgets.”
I took/barely scraped A-Level Maths and let me assure you once was bad enough. I’m sure a maths exam is less painful for those whose minds work in logical sequences and see the world as a series of floating numbers. (My non-mathematical brain is imagining Sesame Street: ‘Today is brought to you by the number 7 and pi.’). It’s pretty safe to assume the kid who sat the exam 29 times is not a walking calculator. So why do it?
Exams, even for those who are academically gifted, are stressful. Resitting the same exam 29 times sounds like a form of torture. The CIA should adopt it. ‘He cracked the 15th time we asked him about photosynthesis, Sir. Tomorrow we start with GCSE Latin’. To resit an exam 29 times you’d either have to have sadistic parents or a really strong incentive. I suspect the kid in question needed A-Level Maths to get her dream job or, more likely, to get into her chosen university degree. She didn’t shrug her shoulders and say, ‘Oh well, I tried’. She didn’t quit. It takes maturity, focus and perseverance to keep working toward what you want despite setbacks. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try and try again.
It took me three attempts to pass my driving test, is my licence worth less than someone who passed first time? Is an ‘A’ worth less if it took you 2, 3, or 29 times to get it? Exams are meritocratic, an ‘A’ is an ‘A’.
Young people are facing an increasingly competitive world where there are fewer job opportunities available to them. They have to fight hard to stand out. If you need A-Level Maths why shouldn’t you retake it until you pass? That shows grit determination. That’s not a bad thing, that’s not someone skewing the system or messing with a statistical graph of results. It’s someone working damn hard for what they want. It should be applauded. Good life skills, kid.