In defence of NAPLAN: Life is full of tests.


This morning, thousands of Australian students in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine, arrived at school for their second day of NAPLAN exams.

Some, no doubt, awoke sick with nerves. Others reluctantly trudged to the bus stop, realising halfway that they most definitely left their pencil case on the kitchen bench.

A number of them were undoubtedly more concerned with what they were having for lunch than the first question on their reading test.

But – at last count – all of them survived.

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss NAPLAN on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.

In an opinion piece for News Corp, Lisa Almond began, “Thousands of kids… woke up today not wanting to go to school. Not wanting to get up and put a uniform on and go and spend the day with their friends. They were too stressed out…”

According to Almond, that’s all NAPLANs fault. It puts “unnecessary pressure” on kids, she argues. Almond is eternally grateful that a letter from her child’s teacher got sent home, reminding him, “this test does not assess all of what makes you exceptional and unique.”

It goes on, “The people who score these tests don’t know that some of you love to sing, are good at dancing…” before listing just about every skill a child can possess.

That is true, of course. It would be very strange if a government sanctioned literacy test somehow gauged how well you could dance, or to what degree you were kind. A lot of things about ourselves cannot be measured, and that has been the case for as long as classrooms have existed.


But we sit and watch the kids who are good at dancing, dance.

We sit and listen to the kids who are good at singing, sing.

We stand and admire the kids who are good at sport, compete.

Yet when it comes to anything academic, we are very quick to alleviate any and all pressure. To downplay the importance of a test, lest anyone feel they’re just not good enough.

The general gist of the letter is that tests don’t really matter all that much, but I’d argue that they do.

Life is full of tests.

“We’re just teaching kids to be good at exams,” goes the oft-cited argument, as though that’s not a valid skill in and of itself.

Image via iStock.

The students who sat NAPLAN today, might one day have to sit exams for University or Tafe. They might have to sit a driving test. They might enter a high pressure work environment, where they are given hard and fast deadlines. They might face performance reviews.

They might have to write something quickly and accurately. They most definitely will have to, at some point, concentrate for a long period of time on completing one activity. They will, in their lives, wake up some mornings and think "I'd rather not do today," but do it anyway. Because isn't that what life is all about?

Exams teach resilience. They teach students that even though you might feel nervous and uncomfortable, that feeling will pass. Being prepared helps. And when you work hard, sometimes it pays off.


Today was a test - nothing more and nothing less. And hopefully it taught some students about perspective. An exam is only ever indicative of your performance on a particular day - but surely that's a lesson worth learning.

Last year, the ABC reported on Dr Elizabeth Green, who warned that regular NAPLAN testing was creating anxious kids who struggle at school.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

To be clear, exams do not cause anxiety. They're just an outlet for it. And if exams make a student anxious, that's all the more reason to do them. There is nothing worse for anxiety than avoidance.

By sitting exams frequently, students are learning valuable, lifelong techniques for coping with stress and anxiety. Getting used to uncomfortable feelings is part of growing up, and something you only learn through experience.

There is enormous debate over how we use NAPLAN results, and the impact they have on funding, and those arguments are entirely valid. But they also have nothing to do with the test itself.

Today, thousands of students across the country sat a test.

Some failed, some passed and some excelled. But most importantly, some of them learned that pressure and stress are integral parts of the rich tapestry of life - and as uncomfortable as they might have felt - they also learned that before long, those feelings will pass.

And life goes on.