The time has come to abolish university examinations. Just because something has been around a long time there’s no reason to assume it’s outdated. But in the case of exams that assumption would be right.
We’ve all been through it. You sit down in a room for two or three hours and answer questions from memory. Now we’re wedded to the idea that’s how you should test someone’s knowledge.
But research shows that examinations don’t develop questioning, self sufficient learners. So why have universities, by and large, chosen to retain them?
The case for examinations
People deploy a number of arguments in defence of examinations: they represent a gold standard of assessment to combat grade inflation; they guarantee the requirements of professional bodies; they provide a sea wall against the rising tide of plagiarism.
These reasons have varying degrees of merit but none of them, in themselves, provide a complete defence of the examination system.
It’s true that grades have apparently been improving for a few years now. As the content of degrees has remained relatively stable during that time I assume that degrees have not got easier but that it is easier to do well – and maybe the students simply work harder and do better.
But the improvement is really down to offering students alternatives to examinations. When tested in other ways students get better marks. So the “gold standard” argument comes down to a choice to test a student in a way that depresses their capacity to get a high mark. I am not sure why any teacher would want to do that.
Highlighting that exams can ensure a common professional standard has some merit, but what is a university for if it is simply delivering the requirements of a third party?
The case that exams save us from academic malpractice has most merit, albeit as a counsel of despair. And is the problem of plagiarism really as big as people fear?
Most experienced university lecturers would agree that there seems to be more plagiarism around than there used to be. Whether this is because of improved detection via software like Turnitin or more malpractice is hard to tell, probably a bit of both.
A different era
We have to remember that students today face different pressures to those of previous generations. They have to balance study and work in ways that most of us didn’t.
They are entering a mass higher education system designed for an educated citizenship not an elite system for a small number of professionals, managers and intellectuals. Their schooling is different. They have computers.
Gen-Y doesn’t have a mystical relationship with the virtual world but it is probably true that the difference between physical and virtual reality, between face-to-face and mediated communication, is less marked for a 20 year old student than it is for a 50 year old professor.
One symptom of this blurring is different attitudes to the idea of originality. It’s clear that many of our students genuinely don’t know when they are plagiarising because they don’t recognise originality as necessarily privileged.
OK, I know this looks like post-modern ideology but nothing could be further from the truth: what I am saying is based on my experience as a teacher.
Don’t be afraid of changing the culture
Can universities address all this? Can they guarantee standards without grade inflation? Can they encourage good study habits without using examinations as a policeman?
They can and do. Many parts of many universities already assess imaginatively and creatively and the world has not come to a standstill.
Much of our academic culture is driven by an anxiety-based conservatism. Students are not like academics: they work and achieve in different ways. We should celebrate this difference not fear it or try to compensate for it.
Students coming to university give us a great gift of trust: we should repay that trust by trusting and giving the opportunity to develop the knowledge, the skills and the opportunity to excel. Scrapping examinations is just one step towards that.
Should universities abolish exams? Leave your comments below.
Exam is a word that most students fear off. A word that has a magic power to change a happy person into a frustrated and nervous one. However, it is a big part of the school that all students have to go through. There are advantages in exams, but there are people who think the opposite that exams have more disadvantages to the students and should be abolished.
Some people say that exams should not be abolished, because they say that exams are the only way for teachers to see the student’s level, it builds high sense of responsibilities, and it gives him pressure that will be useful for him later in his life. The students also compete with not only themselves, but with other people. They do not want to see an increase in their knowledge. They want to beat their classmates to be on top of the class. Another reason is when the student knows that his hard work has paid off, he will feel a self satisfaction inside of him and he will be so proud of himself. So, those people who say that exams should not be abolished think of exams as a self test to see where the students are, and how good they do.
Read more: Exams Should Be Abolished
I personally think that exams should be abolished. Because exams are stressful and they do not show real results of the student’s hard work and mental ability. They favor people who are gifted or have good memory and good exam techniques, and neglect the less able students who actually need the most help. Even though, those who have good memories may not be very smart during the classes and may not understand most of what they are memorizing. In addition, teachers may grade student papers differently. Sometimes the same teacher will give the student a different mark to the same paper after a few months. Another important reason I think is that students should not be judged on their performance on one day. For example, if a student got sick before the exam and he could not study well and got a bad grade or failed with the fact that he is an “A” student. Therefore, I do not think it is fair for him.
Finally, there are always going to be people who are with or against taking exams. It is a controversial issue in all countries. However, I believe in regular testing through out the year. I say doing projects during the year, grades for participation after every lesson, and having weekly assessment is the best solution and the most fair approach for this debate.