Around April and May each year I am reminded of a stressful few weeks I endured in my last year at school as an eighteen-year-old doing my final art exam. A three-hour drawing paper and a twelve or fifteen hour painting paper that came on the back of two weeks preparation time if I remember correctly. The end result was C grade, it was OK, but it wasn’t the A or B that I hoped for.
Now, quite some time later, I’m an examiner for the visual arts exam of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program. I’ve done it for years (and they don’t seem to mind my C grade a-level!). It used to mean that each April I would go and visit a couple of schools, interview eight or ten pupils per school, be wined and dined at the school’s expense when necessary. Each pupil mounted an exhibition of their work, presented their work books and I would interview them for thirty to forty minutes. It was all very interesting and enjoyable, and also, it has to be said, quite an experience for the candidates.
All this changed a few years ago when the IB switched to a fully digital examination system. Nowadays, for each exam candidate I am supplied online with an eighteen-page digital dossier to mark that documents the creative process of their work and the cultural research that they have done. There are plenty of images to look at, but it can also turn into quite a wordy document!
This year I have 100 candidates to work my way through, mark and write a short report about. That is quite a few days staring at the computer screen. But on the positive side, working as I do in a secondary school in Western Europe, it is incredibly interesting to see work made by pupils from all corners of the world and based in quite different cultural backgrounds.
Although I don’t actually teach the IB Diploma course myself I am a pretty big fan of the possibilities it offers, in particular the way it interweaves the practical work the candidates have made with their art historical and contextual studies. It is interesting to see what the candidates have produced during the two years that the course takes, but it is almost as interesting to read a little between the lines and see how different teachers in a variety of countries approach the curriculum.
Yes, there are definitely positives about doing this examine work, but it is something of a relief when you reach the end of your allotment of candidates, at this point I am well underway towards that point.