Expertise Beyond Exams

Expertise Beyond Exams

August 2, 2017

While many pupils await GCSE and A Level results days with anticipation and perhaps a little trepidation, academic achievement is not restricted to those fateful days in August. Over the course of the year, remarkable numbers of the School’s students have demonstrated their learning, their inquisitiveness and their mental acuity in spheres beyond their public examinations.

The UK Mathematics Trust sets challenges for pupils at different levels, with the aim of presenting real tests of ingenuity and problem solving, rather than requiring extra knowledge. Over three hundred St Albans students have won awards in these challenges, including 77 at Gold level. Seven of these students achieved results at such a high level that they qualified for the Mathematics Olympiad. Tom Hillman, of the Fifth Form, was particularly successful, gaining a distinction with full marks in the Intermediate Olympiad before being awarded a distinction in the Senior Olympiad and qualifying for the second round. As a result, he is spending a week at a residential summer school for exceptional mathematicians in Oxford.

A number of Middle School pupils also entered the Biology Challenge, a competition which aims to encourage an interest in Biology beyond the curriculum and to stimulate an interest in the natural world. The two papers challenge students’ ability to analyse and interpret data and explore their holistic knowledge and understanding of the subject. It was very pleasing that 28 students gained medals, including nine Golds. At Sixth Form level, students entered the British Biology Olympiad, which tested them on a wider range of knowledge than is covered syllabus by the A level course, and there were ten medal winners, three of them Gold. Josh Oliver’s score was so impressive he was eligible for the second round.

A similarly testing Olympiad is available in Chemistry and 12 A level chemists took the challenge, which included questions on the green Olympic swimming pool in Rio and Iron Man’s exoskeleton. There were six medal winners, Josh Oliver taking a Gold award. Lower Sixth Formers took part in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge with just over 7,000 pupils across the country. Twelve pupils’ performances were recognised, with Harry Hemsi and Caspar Fleming gaining Gold awards.

Sixth Former Anna Mills entered the Newnham Award Engineering Essay Prize competition and her essay was one of only three high-quality pieces that were Highly Commended by the judges. This is a significant achievement, as the judges noted that the field of entries was extremely strong.

Such academic stretching is not restricted to the STEM subjects, however. The Linguistics Olympiad is an extremely challenging test, requiring students to work out patterns and codes in very obscure languages, or artificially created futuristic languages, which they then need to manipulate themselves. This year William Drake won a Silver award in this demanding competition.

The value of these competitions is that they require a different approach to the subjects from that required by conventional exams. Lacking a specific syllabus and course, they require an alert and flexible approach by the subjects, with real, active interest, rather than revision by rote for a specific test. The successes of so many of our pupils indicates their quick intellectual ability, their passion for their subjects and the enthusiasm for them stimulated by their teachers in School.

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