Time to give exams some review of their own

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… oh wait, is it really that wonderful? Spending copious amounts of time with my nose in books and staring blankly at notes from lectures, I’m wondering to myself: “what’s the point?”

Well, exams are supposed to demonstrate evidence of learning in a course, but I think they’re just demonstrative of memorization and concentration: two things I really am terrible at. As the daughter of a professor, I’ve seen my dad pour over exams and wonder where he went wrong with his students – the truth is that maybe the students weren’t learning what he thought they were.

That, however, doesn’t mean they didn’t learn at all. I’ve taken knowledge from courses completely irrelevant to the syllabus or academic calendar and ended up finding ways to consistently apply it. I’ve discovered that learning itself isn’t one-dimensional and we all learn in different combinations of ways, whether it is by listening, visualising or teaching it to others.

Exams aren’t exactly my preferred method of testing. If sitting in a room with tons of other people isn’t distracting enough, you have the usual coughs and sneezes, the latecomers, the early leavers and the proctors who seem to plan on wearing their noisiest footwear. The end result is a distracted student who can’t help but drift off into a world of daydreaming.

The problem is that our minds simply aren’t adjusted anymore to this mode of intense knowledge regurgitation; we are constantly stimulated by our phones, by our friends and especially by those LCD TVs that follow you everywhere on campus. Examinations aren’t fun for someone with a legitimate concentration issue and they sure aren’t fun for the rest of us – strung-out on caffeine and buggy-eyed from lack of sleep – we’re simply no longer in shape for this kind of mental exercise.

There are those who succeed at the examination process and there are those who fail miserably. Some of these people lie at opposite ends of the grading spectrum. It’s that big essay at the end of the course that keeps them from failing, rather than a formal exam. In my personal experience, formal exams are not an accurate measure of knowledge learned in the course, but simply an accurate measure of one’s ability to memorize. Being able to regurgitate or guess the right answer may be fine for passing an exam, but it certainly does not affirm into knowledge gained and undermines the true value of our post-secondary education.

A very informative article, written by Deborah Craddock and Haydn Mathias, describes the effect the assessment experience has on students’ stress levels, individual learning styles and achievement. When taking into consideration these factors, the conclusion reached was that the benefits of “an enhanced student-centred approach” (for example, a chance for students to create their own formal exam to integrate them into the assessment process) may produce positive results and increases in test scores.

Exams are turning into an extremely inconvenient formality, lowering the averages of many first years and prolonging the November stress – it is an unfair imposition upon students. If everyone learns in different ways I personally don’t see why examinations and testing can’t be conducted accordingly. Taking these very important factors into consideration should become a priority.

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