For well over 100 years, the school year has been structured in a familiar way. The type of exams might have changed but structure of the school calendar has remained constant.
However, arguments are frequently raised about the efficacy of summer exams and whether students would be better served by winter exams.
There are a couple of key reasons why winter examinations might be beneficial to pupils.
No heatwave issues
It might be a rarity in the UK (although 2018 has certainly bucked the trend), but a recent piece of American research conducted over 13 years found that heatwaves and intense heat impact student performance in exams.
Researchers calculated that for every 0.55C increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1% fall in learning. Colder days did not seem to damage achievement – but the negative impact began to be measurable as temperatures rose above 21C.
The impact of heat on students can distract and agitate them. In terms of revising for exams, it may prove to be an insurmountable issue and, while exam rooms can theoretically be shielded from intense heat, this doesn’t work always work in practice.
Summer is often a busy and exciting time for young people.
Whether they’re looking forward to time outdoors or holidays, the idea of being stuck inside revising is problematic for many of them. This may have corresponding effects on their attainment.
Conversely, there is generally less to do in the winter and the prospect of staying inside to revise and learn might be more of a blessing than a curse for many pupils.
On the surface, then, there are a couple of excellent reasons for switching to winter exams. However, there are also several issues too: the school calendar and the impact of winter on mood and health.
As already mentioned, the school calendar has been set in stone for many years and, more recently, the GCSE calendar has been revised to put more emphasis on end-of-year exams. Moving to winter exams would require a massive change on the part of policy-makers and regulators.
Equally, students are as susceptible as everybody else to the so-called “winter blues”, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The lack of summer light and heat that could prove beneficial to students in removing distractions could negatively impact their mood and therefore their performance.
And there is always the possibility that some students could miss important lessons due to winter colds and flu – perhaps even missing the exams themselves because they are unwell. An examination hall full of students coughing and sniffing could prove even more distracting than summer heat!
It’s clear that excessive heat can have a negative effect on a student’s attainment – making it difficult to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. However, the mood and illness issues that can accompany winter weather may balance out any benefits and, ultimately, schools would need to take a huge gamble on implementing such changes.
As this is unlikely to happen in the near future, it might be wise to focus our energies on the things we can change rather than the changes we wish we could make.