Are you a fan of continuous assessment or of exams? No expert on such matters, I, but for whatever it's worth here are a few (ill-informed) reflections.
Furthermore, I was a very idle child. I preferred my games and my story-books and my toys to my school-books. From about eleven or twelve I preferred to debate theological and philosophical issues in church and ponder questions of political theory at a Conservative Association party to thinking about geography or the structure of a flower. And I was so good at doing maths from first principles that I could never be bothered to memorize the formulae I needed to progress with the tasks I was actually assigned. The history I was interested in was that of the battles my pa explained to me and the kings and prime ministers I read about in his books - not that of Jethro Tull and his horse seed hoe. And above all I knew I was clever and that my schoolmates were clever and we knew we didn't need to be disciplined to succeeed.
And so I and my brilliant peers were just plain lazy, and skated through doing the minimum needed. When it came to summer exams (in which period I claimed I was solar-powered) one would bring out one's instinct and insight and read back over one's notes just enough. And if one had been particularly idle that year, or if the wrong questions came up, one faced the humiliation of coming 25th in class (with the boys whose future destination was clearly - horror! - some red-brick institution). But more often a respectable third to seventh would beckon, interspersed with the odd accidental and slightly embarrassing 1st place and undeserved school prize.
Through this method I learned to see through the specific instances of subject-matter with which we were presented in class to the underlying intellectual structure beneath (only by grasping that could my idleness be rescued in the exam - only by knowing what the answer must be even if I had never read it in the text-book).
Doubtless exam systems have to cater for the majority, not merely the dissolute-but-brilliant boys it was my enormous privilege to share my school studies with. But I think the tale about contains the kernel of an insight for others, also. For many of us must know the experience that, in revision, a subject "gels" for us - it comes together as a whole and we understand it as a structure, not merely an assemblage of case-studies. And many of us must be familiar with the thought that children can be very smart and able to grasp what they have been taught even if they are, on the surface, bone idle. Exams, relative to continuous assessment, must surely encourage both these things. They allow children to be children: lazy, emotionally unstable, given to bad-temper, difficult to draw into subjects some days, subject to bullying that we haven't observed, having argued with their parents or their best friend without revealing it, having been distracted by some cool (or empty) TV programme or their new computer game when they should have been doing their homework, distracted (and fascinated) by sunshine, rain, and gray skies, obsessed with that silly crush on a pop star or a teacher or the girl or boy next door, always hungry (boys) or always worried about getting fat (girls over fourteen). And because exams bring everything together in a set-piece test, they reward insight and an ability to know what are the really important facts to memorize or really important essay questions to practice over-and-over.
That set-piece-test approach doesn't equip one for everything in life, but many important things are like that. Court cases, elections, job interviews, consultancy report publications, live music performances, even first dates - all these and more come down to an ability to deliver in a set-piece test. Of course, there are many other things that don't work like that. Music recordings, annual job performance evaluations, gardening, marriage, and many other things are indeed assessed continuously.
One other, final reflection. If there had been continuous assessment at my school (there was one coursework-type assessment in one subject - I got the lowest mark in the region, to the relaxed amusement of my teachers, I believe, since I'm sure my marks were near-perfect in the exams in all other areas) - if there had been continuous assessment, then teaching would have had to be very different. Instead of teaching us in a way that encouraged us to grasp the underlying fundamentals of subjects, I believe that teaching would have needed to be much more modular and conservative. They couldn't have risked us blowing our careers by screwing up totally on a couple of modules before we had fully grasped the overall scheme. So they would have needed to be more focused on teaching us less (they regularly went well beyond the syllabus) and teaching it in a way that maximised our chances of producing the desired answers in that piece of the puzzle, rather than using each segment to show us a little of the whole.
They would also have had to be stricter with those they perceived as the good students. They couldn't have let us skate along, producing poor work as we went then pulling out the stops at the end. Instead, they would have had to classify us in their own minds, earlier in our careers, and those of us they decided would be the stars they would have had to chase to produce the work they believed us capable of. For others, of which the teachers ambition was not so high, lower ongoing standards would be more acceptable. In this way, continuous assessment has the key effect of making student performance closely related to teacher expectations and aspirations for us. The phenomenon, that has always existed under exams-based systems, of the apparently lazy or ill-behaved or stupid student that produces an excellent mark in a final exam against everyone's expectations and in defiance of his teacher's low opinion of him, cannot exist under continuous assessment.
Of course, there is much to be said on the other side - about how continuous assessment helps certain kinds of people to flourish that would otherwise (perhaps unfairly) fall by the wayside. I don't claim otherwise. But these are my reflections for now.