Would You Pass a Memory Test?


It’s a disturbing irony that the idea for this blog post originally came to me on the way to work and I’d contrived to forget it by home time! I had to rack my brain to dredge it back up. The same thing sometimes happens with words, which is not a good look for an English teacher. The most embarrassing memory lapse to date was forgetting the word ‘syllable’ in front of Y8.

Fast approaching my fifth decade, I accept it as a sad fact of life that the memory slowly deteriorates. Then again, were my youthful powers of recollection ever all that? I can’t really remember!

I certainly never possessed one of those mythical photographic memories that a couple of my peers boasted of. But these days that’s exactly what pupils need if they’re to have any realistic chance of storing the deluge of information that they’re bombarded with. It is well-documented that the move to linear assessment has given exams the hallmark of a memory test. The requirement to be familiar with fifteen poems is the most obscene demand on the old grey matter in my subject, making it understandable that most teachers play roulette by narrowing it down to a handful of poems that they hope are flexible enough to cover all eventualities. I’m currently teaching steps for managing in the event of a total memory blank, which is something I seem worryingly qualified for.

Personally, I can’t even accurately recall the five AOs of English Literature (hand up, I had to check paperwork just to corroborate that there are indeed five of them). If pupils are expected to know the AOs for each subject they study at GCSE then that’s approximately fifty in total. Mind-boggling! I struggle to recall the names of fifty people I went to school with, yet the hypocrite in me still advises students to learn them by heart on the basis that it’s an essential weapon in your armoury to know what you’re being tested on.

All this talk of AOs, I don’t recall them ever being made explicit back in my own schooldays. Is this a fault in my memory or a fault in the system? The vague impression I have is that information about exam boards and AOs was extraneous information that didn’t particularly concern me because the skills were embedded. And they at least have stayed with me over the years, which is why I’m still able to pass as a teacher despite the inability to commit AOs to memory and the occasional bouts of terminology amnesia. Whether I’d actually pass today’s GCSEs with flying colours, that’s a whole other matter…

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