Exams & Preparation

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The 100% culture

In the English Language Teaching business our most-quoted number is 100. It’s all about 100%. Of what? Of language exams success of course! Everybody has to pass. 90% is not good enough. 70% is a total failure.

Students become numbers. They are reduced to percentages. Teachers measure their teaching success based on pass rates. Schools advertise their 100% success with huge posters, social media campaigns, fancy posts.

I don’t like the 100% culture and I’ve got 3 simple reasons for my dislike.

“We are all failuresat least the best of us are.J.M. Barrie


1) I do not approve of this dry quantification of education, of knowledge, of progress. I like tests. I like exams. But I know for a fact that they mean very little if taken at their face value. We know it: people are not numbers. They’re not percentages. They, we, are stories. We are narratives. Let’s tell our stories. Let us not label ourselves with another number.

2) The 100% culture brings shame to failure. A school might be doing fantastic work with language education and have half of their students pass a language exam. It can happen and it’s accepteble. We all know great people who failed and mediocre people who succeeded. If all that matters is to get your 100% on your Facebook post, you’re obsessed with a success story, making failure feel like a stigma.

3) It becomes a battle for the bottom. If your main goal is this 100% success, you will opt for easier exams, where this absolute success becomes possible. So you’ll be lowering the standard because all that matters is not language acquisition but…100% success. It’s ugly and it distorts the true purpose of language education (already distorted enough through this exam-insanity).

On a final note, a good exam should have some sort of normal distribution. If everybody passes it, something is wrong with the exam…

  1. If you are a school owner and you belong to the 100% culture, can you just for a moment think where this approach takes you? If everybody has 100% success, what differentiates you from your competition? Hmmm…yes, it’s another battle for the bottom (of the lowest possible tuition fees this time).