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CIS Insights | Exams: How to Achieve Academic Excellence

Canadian International School of Guangzhou 2023-02-27

CIS INSIGHTS (750 × 490 px)

Earlier this month, CIS Secondary students finished their Semester One exams. Postponed due to online learning and COVID restrictions, students also got to take their report cards home last week. We took this opportunity to sit down with our wonderful Mr. Barks, CIS Secondary Vice Principal, to learn more about exams at CIS, and the different models teachers use to assess academic excellence.

*Oh, and if you’re curious whether Mr. Barks will allow ChatGPT to be used in future exams, read on!

What Exams Do Secondary Students Write at CIS?

“As CIS is accredited with Alberta Education in Canada, we utilize the Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) for our Grade 6 and 9 students. In the senior end of the school, we utilize the Diploma Exams (DPs) for all Grade 12 diploma courses. Standardized tests are very important they allow us to assess how we stack up against all other Canadian students.


One thing that is different this year is that we have aligned our exam blocks so that Grade 7 to 9 juniors and Grade 10 to 12 seniors can write their exams at the same time. Going forward, junior high students will also write mid-semester and end-semester exams, just like their high school counterparts. It gives a better sense of continuity and commonality, all in excellent preparation for high school!”

Usually students has a week to prepare for mid-term or final-term exams.

Exam Results: The Combination of Process and Product

“An exam is just a snapshot. In terms of learning, it is so much more than just one single test.


Our diploma exams are always 30% of a final mark. The day-to-day work represents 70%. At CIS, we value day-to-day learning and effort on a huge level. But 30% is nothing to scoff at either because that can make the difference between a mediocre mark and an incredibly high-level mark. It is very important we balance the process and the product to reflect the whole learning journey of every student.”

In CIS markbook, student performance in each subject is assessed with both effort scale and grade level.

Exam Data: Our Benchmarks for Learning and Teaching

At CIS, we use Gibbon as our information and data system. With continuous data, staff have a good insight into what’s happening with both individuals and groups of students. We scrutinize these results to see where students are incredibly successful and more importantly, where are they struggling, and WHY? 


I don't believe in surprises. Surprises with education are never a good thing. We should be able to track whether we're doing a great job along the way, or we're really struggling and need to do something to get extra help.


That being said, exam results should never be consequential to students, at least not in a negative way. It should always be looked at from a growth mindset, and as an ongoing measuring stick for staff to see if we as educators are truly delivering an effective program. It’s all about reflection, and a new starting point towards academic excellence.”

ChatGPT is HERE! What is CIS’ Stance on This Controversial Tool?

“I’m not big on banning, just like my opinion towards electronic devices at school. We can harness ChatGPT for its incredible learning capabilities and possibilities, rather than see it as an enemy. We just need to define the right time and space for it and help students with self-management, which sometimes I think we need as adults too. 

We are aware that ChatGPT can never replace anyone’s understanding in learning. At CIS, something we often do is ask students to demonstrate or defend what they’ve learned, and this is not something ChatGPT can do for them. As educators, this is exactly why we should evaluate students with the whole learning process, not just one single exam or paper. 

Additionally, if we look at the artificial intelligence, the coding and the programming that's behind ChatGPT, it is absolutely phenomenal! One of our high school students this year has been accepted by Hong Kong University Science and Technology, majoring in AI! How cool would it be to study something like this? Indeed, I am very proud of the CIS Class of 2023!”

Editor’s Note: 

Effective assessment is probably a widely debated topic in education. There’s never a final answer that applies to all. Thank you, Mr. Barks, for sharing your insights, honest opinions and our shared vision to pursue academic excellence here at CIS.

You have questions, we got answers!

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