Time is ticking for Exam Season

As exam season begins, I was amazed by a recent story which did the rounds about GCSE and A Level students being unable to read the time and so requiring a digital clock in the exam room instead of a traditional analogue clock.

It takes some stretch of the imagination to believe that children have not learnt to tell the time on a normal clock by the time they start senior school never mind by the time they are sitting their public examinations some years later!

And yet Malcolm Trobe from the head teachers’ union ASCL, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said youngsters had become so accustomed to using digital devices that many of them can’t tell the time.

As a result, Mr Trobe, the Deputy General Secretary of ASCL, told the Telegraph that many schools are now abandoning traditional clocks in exam halls and rooms in favour of digital clocks.

‘The current generation aren’t as good at reading the traditional clock face as older generations. They are used to seeing a digital representation of time on their phone and on their computer. Nearly everything they’ve got is digital so youngsters are just exposed to time being given digitally everywhere.’

I can appreciate Mr Trobe’s concern that all unnecessary stress is removed from the exam room but I think he is doing children a disservice.

Generations of children have managed year after year to sit through a three hour exam with the help of the traditional clock on the wall.

At the Royal High School here in Bath, we retain the traditional analogue clocks on the wall of our examination halls but we also have digital clocks. This is not because our pupils cannot tell the time. We use both to ensure total precision as digital clocks can be more accurate.

We project a digital clock – via www.clocktab.com – onto white boards to remind everyone in the room of the start and finish times of the exams – along with the name of the exam taking place.

We certainly would not consider taking down our analogue clocks – that would be a sad day!

Hearteningly, I have also noticed that many students are increasingly wearing traditional watches – perhaps because they appreciate the classic design – and even those who prefer an Apple watch are switching those watches to an analogue display, rather ironically. Who knows – perhaps Mr Trobe will be able to reverse his gloomy predictions that today’s teenagers can only read digital interfaces – if good old-fashioned watch wearing catches on. It happened with vinyl, after all!

In the meantime, my timely advice for all those taking exams this summer is that preparation and planning is all and sitting back and taking a few breaths in the exam room and reading through the paper carefully before you begin is indispensable to timing your own exam correctly, which ultimately is the absolute key to doing your best.

Good luck to all of those students who have already started their exams and good luck to those who are waiting in eager anticipation!


Jo Duncan, Headmistress, The Royal High School Bath GDST

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