Why should I do schoolwork when my exams have been cancelled? (Thought No. 4)

Hmm … Good question, and one that many school students will have been asking themselves over the past two weeks or so.

Well, if you’re in the younger yeargroups, you’ll have to go back to school at some point. “The teachers will just start from where we were, and help us catch up,” you might say. Probably true, but you the pupils are the ones who will have lost out there. You won’t have as much time left before, for example, you have to choose exam subjects, and knowing less in each subject means your choice won’t be as well-informed as it would have been. So that’s one good reason to keep working in each subject.

Another is – and this applies to everyone who’s off school – that the longer we don’t study, the lower our IQ (Intelligence Quotient) becomes. I need to try to find the study again, to reference this, but research does show that over, say, a 6-week summer holiday, a learner’s IQ falls by 4 points!

Our study skills, like so much else, tend to operate on a “use it or lose it” basis. If we don’t keep ourselves in the habit of learning, it will be much harder to return to it and have to re-learn those skills.

If you are in the older yeargroups, you’ll be working towards qualifications – National 4 or 5, Highers, GCSEs, A-levels, for example. If you’re in the first year of a two-year course, it’s really important that you keep yourself working on it; you won’t be able to make up the time if you don’t use it now. Yes, you might be able to work harder and cram more in when you do go back to school, but that “catch-up” material won’t be as well learned as if you had spread its learning over a longer time, and the pressure on you will mean that new material has less time to “sink in”.

If you’re in the final year of your courses, and you know that your exams aren’t going to happen, that’s a really frustrating situation to be in, and I feel for you. Your grades will depend on the standard of the work you did before the schools closed, including mock or prelim exams. That is what your teachers will use to predict your grades for the exam boards. I know that many school students – not all! – tend not to take prelims or mocks seriously, telling themselves that these exams don’t really matter, and that they (the students) will work a lot harder for the “real” exams. Sadly, it is partly for situations like the current one that mocks/prelims exist. OK, we haven’t had as widespread a situation as this before, but the principle is the same: if a learner can’t take his or her “real” exam – for whatever reason – the prelim/mock result is used to indicate what the student might have been expected to achieve.

“Hindsight is a great thing,” you might be muttering, resentfully – and I take your point.

So – if you are not going to be continuing a subject after this school year, is there any point in working on it? In all honesty, probably not. HOWEVER, you have to be REALLY sure that you’re not going to need or want knowledge of that subject at any time in the future. For example, you may not want to be an accountant, but you’ll need to understand numbers for many, many aspects of your life beyond school – pay-slips, checking tax and National Insurance, appreciating the consequences of interest rates for borrowing and saving, to name but a few. Physics may not be a great interest of yours, but if you ever wonder why waves make the patterns they do, in the sea or in a puddle or on a river, physics is the subject that’s going to explain that to you. And of course, you’ll be using language for the rest of your life – reading (even if only for work or social contact), writing (typing onscreen is a form of writing), speaking and listening. So you REALLY do have to keep on getting better and better at using language, because you need to grow into and keep up with the use of language by people in the world beyond school.

If you’re taking a subject on to the next level, next academic year, you can’t escape the importance of keeping up your learning over the coming months.

If you’re hoping to go on to university or college to study your subject(s), you need to keep learning so that you’ll be in a place of (relative) confidence when you start your HE (Higher Education) or FE (Further Education) course. If you’re really concerned about whether you can do this on your own, it is well worth finding out whether there is tutoring help available. Some tutors – for example, students who are already on your chosen course, but a year or two ahead – might well be happy to tutor you for free. Other tutors will charge, but it might be money well spent if it gets you off to a good start at college or university. All this will have to be online or by phone (or even by post!) at the moment, of course.

If you’re hoping to move school, perhaps for Highers or Sixth Form, and you’re uncertain whether your predicted grades will get you in, it will help if you can show that you have been working with a tutor – or if you can show actual evidence of work you’ve been doing on your own – during the time the schools have been closed. Remember that this is a time of uncertainty for everyone: your new school might be glad of help such as this when trying to make decisions about which students to admit.


What matters is what you can do, and what you know. This is what employers are looking for, and it is what will be of most use to you in life. A bit of paper with subjects and grades written on it is not, when you come to think of it, a great deal of practical use.

It would be great if an employer were able to take you on for a few months to find out whether you have the skills and knowledge that (s)he is looking for. Unfortunately, that isn’t a practical proposition in today’s job market, where there are so many applicants for each post, and people will travel or relocate readily in order to take up a job. So qualifications are designed to reassure the employer (or university or college) that you really do have the skills and knowledge that (s)he is looking for.

Why am I pointing that out? Because it’s the skills and knowledge that are the important things, not the qualifications themselves. That means that it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you continue to practise and to learn the skills and other attributes that you are going to need after this summer.

It’s not the qualifications that matter, it’s what you can actually do.

Keep learning, keep reading, keep thinking. You have many skills: use them, don’t lose them.

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