Poor performance on mother tongue exam due to lack of reasoning skills

Estonian language state exam in Rapla High School.
Estonian language state exam in Rapla High School. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

The average score on the national mother tongue exam decreased by five points from the previous year. Anu Kell, a veteran teacher, explained that the low score is a result of the complexity of the literary topics this year and the inadequate level of the students' reasoning skills.

This year, the average grade on the Estonian national exam was 55.7 points. One pupil earned the highest possible score of 100 points.

2019's average was 60.48 points, 2021's average was 60.31 points, and 2020's average was 61.61 points. In the previous year, five students achieved the highest attainable grade.

Anu Kell, a mother tongue teacher at the Tallinn Secondary School of Science (Tallinna Reaalkool) and Gustav Adolf Grammar School (GAGS), as well as a literature elective teacher at Tabasalu and Kohtla-Järve state secondary schools said that "[Last year's ] topics were rather superficial, and it was even difficult for an intelligent person to provide examples from, say, literature or history. But this year, much to my delight, there were some very meaningful topics aimed at very intelligent people," she said. "However, I am somewhat disappointed that this resulted in such a significant decline."

"It actually shows very clearly how little our students read or how superficial they are," Kell said. She read through the work of 400 students as this year's national test assessor.

"If you give them four of these more fundamental and stimulating topics, the kind of subjects that allow an intelligent person to give good and interesting examples, they cannot do it because they do not read and do not care what is happening in the world. Their interests are limited to the world of social media, and there is nothing interesting that they can bring up from there, for example," Kell explained.

She said, this year, one of the topics was how Estonia, as a small country, might make a presence in the world. "It is not a bad topic; it is a very good topic to write about," Kell said. "However, the vast majority of the papers I came across cited Kelly Sildaru and Ott Tänak, which is not strictly speaking wrong, but you do not have to go to school for 12 years to be able to cite Sildaru and Tänak."

If we want to improve our exam results, the four possible writing topics could include a topic on which students with weaker analytical skills could also write, Kell suggested.

"But if we really want a new generation of well-educated young Estonians to grow up, we should still take a very deep look at ourselves and ask ourselves what we can do differently at school. I think we should still demand more," Kell said.

Like Kell, previous years' exam assessors have pointed out that "a large proportion of students have difficulties with argumentative thinking and writing, and that more attention could be paid to the development of argumentation skills in the learning process."

An analysis of the results of last year's mother tongue exams showed that the overall average result for women was 7.7 points better than the average result for men.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

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