Early entry school exam success for gifted students

More than 150 pupils on three government high schools sat exams early


A growing number of gifted high school students in the Cayman Islands, including some as young as 13, are being fast-tracked through GCSE and CXC exams. 

More than 150 students in Cayman’s three government high schools were entered early for at least one exam in 2014, with the vast majority attaining “good passes” of grade C or higher. 

Additional subjects  

School principals say the early entry program is allowing the most academically able students to free up time in their final school years to take on additional subjects or advanced courses, improving their chances of getting into higher education programs. 

Mathematics, English, and Electronic Document Preparation – a basic IT course required for all high school students – are the most common exams taken early by students in the Cayman Islands. 

Focus on numeracy and literacy  

Pauline Beckford, principal at Clifton Hunter High School, said a concerted effort to focus on numeracy and literacy is paying off. 

“What we are finding is that, with the expert teaching that is going in, we are identifying a small number of students who are able to sit these exams two years ahead of time, which is something to be applauded,” she said. 

An even greater number is sitting exams one year ahead of time. 

At Clifton Hunter in 2014, 10 students from Year 9 and 71 students from Year 10 sat early entry exams.  

It is a similar story at John Gray High School, where 73 Year 10 students and 14 Year 9 students achieved “good passes” in at least one subject. At Cayman Brac’s Layman E. Scott High School, around 26 Year 10 students took exams early in English, mathematics, science and IT, and received a 70 percent “good pass” rate, or better, in every subject. 

Ordinarily, students take their CXC And GCSE exams at the end of Year 11, when they are age 15 or 16, with an opportunity to re-sit in Year 12, the conclusion of mandatory schooling in the Cayman Islands. 

Moving on  

Lyneth Monteith, principal at John Gray High School, said taking exams early enables more academically gifted students to move on to other subjects and higher qualifications.  

She said students who pass mathematics early could take a statistics course, while those who excel in IT could achieve specialist Microsoft Office qualifications before they leave school. 

“What is very encouraging is that each year greater numbers of students are entered early and are successful,” Ms. Monteith said. 

She added, “Students [who sit early exams] are motivated to pick up additional subjects and are usually successful. This certainly speaks to the increase in the standards and students application towards gaining additional qualifications – often by working in their own time and in addition to the subjects that are required by the school.” 

Handling exam pressure  

Ms. Beckford of Clifton Hunter High School said school authorities are careful to select only students they believe are mature enough to handle the pressure of important external exams at such a young age, as well as those gifted enough to achieve top grades – A or B or equivalent. 

She said the number of students eligible for early entry exams is increasing year on year.  

The challenge facing the school is to balance the desire to provide opportunities for top students with the need to help other students progress, Ms. Beckford added. 

“I think we need to look at the curriculum and look at what we are offering in terms of stretching and developing those higher-achieving students, but also ask how do we help those at the bottom end?” she said. 

Ms. Beckford said the school is starting to offer a wider range of vocational courses but acknowledged there is scope to do more, particularly for girls. 

Cayman Brac 

Adrian Jones, principal at Layman E. Scott High School on Cayman Brac, said taking exams early helps boost self-esteem and keeps talented pupils motivated. 

He said those who did not achieve their predicted grades have the chance to re-sit. 

Clifton Hunter:   

  • 81 students took at least one exam early, including mathematics, English, Electronic Document Preparation and;  
  • 35 students got good passes in mathematics;  
  • 51 got good passes in English 

John Gray:  

  • 96 students took at least one exam early, including mathematics, English, business, social studies, EDPM and music B-TEC 
  • 39 students got good passed in mathematics,  
  • 58 got good passes in English 

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