Friday, May 27, 2011

Caribbean Context: CXC's

Last week, I talked about the 11 Plus exam, that most of the children of the English-speaking Caribbean face. This week I'll be talking about CXC's.

DEFINITION:

CXC is actually the name of the examining body- Caribbean eXaminations Council. Remember Harry Potter's O.W.L's? O.W.L. stands for Ordinary Wizarding Level. CXC is one of many bodies in the world that grant Ordinary Level certificates. CXC's are literally OWL's without the Wizarding.

Like OWLs, CXCs are generally done after 5 years of secondary school.

THE SYSTEM:

There are minor variations from school to school, so I'll explain how it went at my school. At the beginning of 4th form (14 years old) you made a choice. English Language, English Literature and Maths were mandatory, and you could pick 5 on top of those. At my school, you had to keep a language, a science and a social science (Geo/Hist) and then you could do whatever with the other 2 choices. In 5th form (15/16 years old), these were the 8 CXC's you'd take.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CXC's AND SATs:

SATs are additional to your high school career. You can get a high school diploma for existing.
CXC's are part of your school career. We don't have any form of school leaving certificate. (That's Barbados, but maybe other countries have one.)

The only SAT that people generally care about is SAT 1: Maths and English, basically.
CXC's come in lots of subjects: French, Business, Office Procedures, History, Physics, etc.

The SAT is a single day.
CXCs have lots of parts. Most have them have both a multiple choice part and a long answer- often on different days. Some have in-school portions called School Based Assessments (SBA's). They're like regular assignments which your teacher marks and then (I think) they're second-marked by a CXC marker.

SATs are usually only relevant to education.
CXCs count for everything. You wouldn't need a good SAT score to be a policeman, but you need at least 3 CXC's.

SAT scores matter.
With CXC's (Grade 1-6, 1 being highest, 1-3 being a pass) the actual score doesn't matter as much as the number of passes. You could have 11 CXC's at Grade 3 and you look and sound better than someone with 9 CXC's at Grade 1.

WHAT IT MEANS:

Universality. Like I said, there are differences from school to school. But CXC's are done throughout the English speaking Caribbean. And O' Levels are done in much of the British Commonwealth. So when I say to a Trinidadian "I have 10 CXC's" or to a Pakistani "I have 10 O' Levels" they know exactly what I mean.

Single Point Focus.
School transcripts don't matter. What this means is that you can (like me) faff about all day, wander around in town when you're sick of school, daydream your life away, and still succeed. I'm not a good term student. I have the attention span of a gnat. So this system worked for me. On the flip, kids who prefer classwork to exams suffer. During the 11 Plus, one of my primary school bff's whose parents had put a lot of pressure on her, broke down and sobbed through the entire exam. Reactions are less drastic at CXC level, but there are still people who don't handle it well.

End of an era. Most schools finish after CXC (in Barbados). Only 4 of 22 secondary schools have a 6th form. After these exams, some people are finished with their school life. Some go on to transfer into a 6th form school (competition is tight). Some go to The Barbados Community College (Academic qualifications- usually Associate Degrees, and a few MFAs) or SJP Polytechnic (technical qualifications). And some get into university.

From a YA writer's point of view, I could have a character who's 16 and working, without being a dropout.

School has less of a say. Even though our schools are sorted by exam scores, anybody can succeed at CXCs. In a transcript system, a crap teacher or a teacher who "hates" you, can make a significant impact on your academic record. In the CXC system not so much. I just could not see eye to eye with my French teacher. After an exchange trip to Martinique I came to love the people and the culture and got a 1 at CXC- all the while ignoring the teacher.

Another difference from YA. Students in America who are going for academic success probably try to keep on their teacher's good sides. Teachers were often in my "ignore" file. (Man, I was a bad student.)

CXC's are a major difference between growing up in the US and growing up in the Caribbean. And it makes a big difference when we read YA. There are lots of books starring carefree 16 year olds. And while I was kind of carefree- I can't help it- 16 is another point where the rest of your life can be decided.

What was your education system like? If you're in the US, was it a lot like what's often portrayed in YA and movies? If you're outside the US, did your system depend on external exams or transcripts? How else was it different or the same from what you see in books?

4 comments:

Sophia Richardson said...

Just the other week I discussed with an American the fact that in the UK school ends at sixteen with the option of more education (college or sixth form then university). I hadn't thought about it before then because everyone in my social circle stayed on. Finishing at sixteen is like admitting you won't get a better job than McDonalds-- even the kids who didn't get many GCSEs (what we call O levels) still went to college to do apprenticeships or courses like plumbing or cosmetology.

This is a really fascinating series, Claire!
- Sophia.

Marsha Sigman said...

If you can you should watch reruns of 'My So Called Life'. That is the most realistic protrayal of American public school that I have ever seen. Or mine at least. Gossip Girl...not so much. Diploma and transcripts and yes keeping on your teacher's good side really counts.

But your system sounds so much better!!

Anonymous said...

Its sad that after doing so many CXCs (O'levels) which seems the same as SATs with a little more its difficult to be accepted in college in the US because even now some colleges and universities in the the US and the UK do not recognise or even know what a CXC is or its value to the Caribbean thats depressing for many that actually would like to enroll in a US or UK university or college.

Unknown said...

I'm in St. Lucia currently preparing for January CXCs (taking maths and English early, did bio already) and I have to agree with Anonymous above. Certain schools and colleges that I'm applying for in the UK want me to go through an organisation called Naric so that they can get an accurate comparison of CXCs. Not all schools ask for it though.