Is it fair to ask students to sit three art exams in one day?


TODAY students sitting their Leaving Cert art exams are spending a busy and exhausting day.

For the first time they are faced with taking three exams in one day - in the past these exams were taken over a day and a half. Many teachers argue that packing three exams - art history, life drawing and still life or imaginative composition - into a single day is too much.

Teachers too are concerned that over one third of the total marks are allocated to the history and appreciation of art paper. "It's a major cause of dissatisfaction with the Leaving Cert," says Mr Declan Campbell who teaches art at Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin. "This means that you could almost get a pass at Leaving Cert without being able to draw a line. An allocation of twenty to twenty five per cent would more realistic."

Mr Campbell also argues in favour of a greater correlation between the papers. "A unifying theme or central subject which would connect all the threads would be more beneficial," he asserts.

Many teachers believe that the history of art paper is too broad. "Students can end up writing about an artist whose work they have only experienced through slides," says one art teacher. "They have no idea of the proper scale of the artist's work and no direct experience of it." This teacher says that it is the students who are good at English who do well on this paper.

Last year for the first time, coloured prints of artwork were included in the history and appreciation of art papers. This year, students were issued with the craft and design papers a week in advance of the practical exams. This enabled them to research and prepare sketches which they were allowed to bring into the exams for reference. These innovations have been welcomed by teachers. However, the fact that exams are by their very nature time limited does cause problems. "Students are expected to Walk in on the day and produce work," says Ms Helen Comiskey, who teaches art at Dunshaughlin Community College, Co Meath. "This is not the way artists work. They put in a lot of thought and produce preparatory drawings over time."

Although teachers are very enthusiastic about the new project based Junior Cert programme, they are finding that the higher level course is "proving an incredible workload", according to Ms Comiskey. "It's very enjoyable but too demanding for children of that age," she says. "The syllabus is over examined," says Mr Campbell."Higher level students have 15 individual pieces of work to submit. It puts huge pressure on the teachers, the students and on the school's storage facilities.

Despite the drawbacks of the syllabus, art is a wonderful subject to study, teachers say. "It's one of the few subjects that gives you a rounded education," confirms Ms Comiskey. "Students develop a great visual awareness and it gives them confidence to judge their own work and that of others," she says.