Friday, 21 December 2012

Examination Blues by Keren David

January is on the way, and that means exam time for thousands of British teens. These are closely followed by exams in May and June. School years 11,12 and 13 covering the ages 15 to 18, are dominated by external examinations.

As a writer of contemporary teen novels, this unrelenting load of exams is a complete pain. How can my teen protagonists have a social life, have adventures, do interesting things when they’re working so hard?  My latest book features two clever sixthformers, with their sights set on Oxbridge. How to give them time to get to know each other amid all their essays and revision?

What’s more, Michael Gove plans to change everything. Do I write about GCSEs and A levels, or try and pre-empt the eBacc, which is due to come in in a few years time…if it goes ahead? If I put a line in the musical I’m writing about Drama GCSE is that going to date instantly?

There are various approaches to the problem that I’ve noticed recently.  Some writers talk about GCSEs, but it's clear they think of them like old-style O levels….two years of study and then an exam at the end. Others transform the British system into something much more American (Night School by CJ Daugherty takes this approach to the point where there’s a reference to Headmaster Rowe – it doesn’t stop the book being very entertaining and compelling ). Others throw in a reference or two to coursework, or free their teens from the classroom somehow -  in my most recent book, Another Life, both narrators have dropped out of school by the end. In Rockaholic, C J Skuse writes about a teenager who has left school at 16.

Watching my own children going through the British school system I feel they are ridiculously overloaded with tests, they make life-changing changes too early and, after this year's GCSE debacle, I have no faith in the fairness of the system or the people meant to enforce it. I agree with those who say that our kids don’t need exams at 16. It’d be a bonus for me as a writer as well.

In the meantime, I'm considering writing about kids at international schools, alternative schools, home-schooled kids, kids with school phobia, kids with careers and home tutors. What's your solution?



  1. It's always tricky making sure that authenticity doesn't get in the way of an exciting narrative. I've spent hours studying calendars to check half-term holidays, start of exams etc – but these are all important things to consider because if a story just couldn't happen the way its written, the whole thing loses impact. I'm setting my next story during the school summer holiday!

  2. Write books set in the distant or recent past. I have not deliberately set out to do that but the books I have written (not published) have been set in the recent past. I know it. I grew up in it (but it still requires some research!) I don't have to "second guess" about the present generation. They on the other hand are close enough to the recent past for it to be familiar without too much explanation or research.
    (It also means that I do not have to worry about the characters having access to a mobile phone!)

  3. Oh, mobile phones are easily dealt with. The kids in my books never remember to charge them up/make sure they have credit.

  4. It doesn't really help sending them to a different school (A-levels and the IB, at least, both involve two years' of hard work). If you decide to make them less studious you'll be bogged down with numerous meetings with heads of departments, deputy heads, career advisors and the list goes on.
    To many students, lessons is only one part of school, and the really important stuff is happening outside the classroom and away from the prying eyes of the adults who are working in the school. (In my latest writing project mobile phones are taken away from the students).

  5. if want to say about Connect With Your Teen Daughter It’s not easy to develop a close relationship with your teen when they are naturally pushing you away.We also have to be careful during this process that we maintain a certain distance while also creating an open, safe relationship with them. If we shut them down to us, we won’t be able to guide them at all.This is so critical because we want them to come to us for guidance, not relying on their teenage friends for advice.