Navigating Secondary School Exams

Concern over any education system’s ability to help a student gain admission into university is probably one of the most common issues parents face as they seek to educate their children. The impact of further education on a student’s life can be significant, and parents rightly wish to help rather than hinder their child on his or her route to success. To thoroughly investigate this matter, we must first investigate our priorities and the answers to basic questions such as the nature of an education, and then consider which exams best help us achieve our goals, and how.

What is an education?

The word education, though today used as a noun, originates from two Latin verbs: “educare” — to train or mould, and “educere” — to lead out. As Christians, we seek to train our children in the knowledge of God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, while simultaneously leading them out of the darkness which sin and rejection of God inevitably bring. These priorities lend a different perspective to the question of whether an education is “good”. While the world may wish to measure the quality of an education by an exam score, we as Christians should seek more. If our child can get an A* in maths yet detest the subject and see no purpose or value in it, then the significance of the grade becomes much less. If that constitutes a good education, then do we really want it? At Classical Conversations, we believe that an education is so much more than an exam grade — we want to consider the importance of all things, from the tiny, such as the gecko’s ability to climb vertical surfaces and even upside down by interacting with the molecular structure of the surface using microscopic hairs, through to the massive, such as the combinations of interests and ambitions that ignite large-scale wars. Our ultimate goal, however, is to find and revel in the glorious integration of all the subjects, and their unmistakable mark of their Creator. An education which seeks God in all things is an education that prepares students for anything the world can throw at them — as long as their foundation is sure, they cannot fall.

What about exams?

Exams have been grading students since the late 1800s, and have shown both their virtues and their vices. Exams do provide an excellent way to monitor the strengths and weaknesses of a student, and can aid them in identifying the areas in which they wish to put more effort. However, a recent trend in education has been to focus almost exclusively on the exam, and to give it far more concern than it deserves — exams were created for the students, not the students for the exams.

While it is important not to give the exams too high a place in our lives, they do serve a purpose, and most likely will be required at some point in our student’s lives. To that end, we believe that since an exam tests what a student knows, any form of education that allows the student to acquire knowledge will give them what they need to perform well in any exam. What makes the classical model of education so aptly suited for this task is that it is modelled around the way we learn, splitting learning into the natural phases of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric; furthermore, it gives the students (and parents) a love for learning and a thirst for knowledge, priming them for exams, but with the ultimate goal of inspiring in them a passion to find God in every subject they ever study.

Won’t my child need exams to get into university?

With their passion for learning, some students will likely wish to attend higher education, and we as parents want to equip them for that, both in character and in academic excellence. Universities usually require some form of standardised testing. In the UK, the most well-known exams are the GCSEs and A Levels in England, Highers in Scotland, the Junior and Leaving Certificate Examinations in Ireland, and, to a lesser extent, the International Baccalaureate. However, these exams require four or more years of dedication, and thus cannot easily be taken in conjunction with Classical Conversations’ secondary school program, Challenge, but, more fundamentally, force families back into the school system which they tried to exit in the first place. An alternative option to consider is one of the university entrance exams used in America: the SAT or the ACT (pronounced S-A-T and A-C-T, respectively). These exams test the students’ skills and knowledge that they have already attained from their regular schoolwork, resulting in less revision and making them much easier to take in addition to the Challenge program. The abilities tested are ones that cannot be crammed, but only nurtured. They are held throughout the year at centres across the country. More information about these exams can be found at (SAT) or (ACT).

If you are wondering how these American exams compare to their UK counterparts, a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found that UK A Level students had the same median score as their US equivalents. (Kirkup et al. 7) In the US, a survey of Classical Conversations grads found them to have higher median scores than the national average in every category of these two exams. (

Families may also wish to consider creating a transcript for Challenges I-IV (Years 10-13) which provides a record of students’ coursework and grades. This can be useful, or in some cases mandatory, for university applications. Classical Conversations does not assign grades for a student’s transcript, but we can help. Visit our online transcript service at to get started.


An education genuinely deserving of the term “good” is one in which students gain a passion for their subjects, a desire for knowledge, and the ability to see the interconnectedness of all subjects to each other, but also to God. A classical education is a proven method to help promote these qualities in students. If and when exams become necessary, the SAT/ACT is an established exam that is easily added to student’s regular schoolwork that will, along with a transcript, unlock a myriad of possibilities. Classical Conversations would love to partner with you on this exciting journey as we search for truth, wonder, and real freedom and joy.


Works Cited: Kirkup, Catherine, et al. “Relationships between A level Grades and SAT Scores in a Sample of UK Students.” National Foundation for Educational Research, 2008. Accessed 15 May 2020.





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