exam
photo: Flickr/Alberto G.

Do we really need exams?

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I’m luckily one of those people who has a bit of a knack for exams. Why? Well, despite my slight worry that university has killed my intelligence from a constant lack of sleep (bad mattresses also have a lot to answer for), I’m one of those lucky people with an aptitude for memorisation.

I’m not talking about figures, they tend to flow out of my head as fast as the alcohol will flow among Warwick students when the exam season is blessedly over. But I’m speaking more for humanities students rather than our STEM counterparts. Our degrees tend to focus on critical analysis, considering possible objections and understanding opinions from secondary sources, all in order to construct a convincing argument, hopefully with some original thought.

Obviously terminology and facts are important and as a French student, I know how crucial it is to not mix up your Louis and your Napoleons. However, it does often feel that exams can place an unnecessary focus on regurgitating facts like these, rather than giving us the time to form this clear argument and hopefully bring some original ideas to the conversation.

After all, look at the time given to write an essay under exam conditions. The weeks given to researching, writing, revising and proofreading an academic essay are squashed down to an hour to scribble furiously and hope that your marker has seen a spark of genius in the five minutes that you’ve had to consider your response to a question.

 

Some may argue that the exam is excellent training to think and write under pressure, but in what other situation would you not be able to research and write a report? A hectic work environment may have pressing deadlines, but there are plenty of tools available to research.

While I don’t advocate becoming a slave to google and our modern ability to look anything up, I probably wouldn’t stress about memorising the rarely used, alternative definition of a French word in real life – Le Petit Robert has my back. Even for those looking to go into academia, I don’t see how exams are adequate preparation for the rigour of researching and writing for months on end – a dissertation appears to be a far better test run.

The stress of exams can’t be ignored either. The tension of exam season feels palpable on campus from tired-looking students trudging into Rootes for revision snacks, to the battle to get seats on the fifth floor of the library. In fact, if the slightly infamous ‘Overheard at Warwick’ Facebook video of campus security coming to mediate tensions between two students in the library is anything to go by, patience has rapidly dwindled over the Easter holiday.

Furthermore, as a final year student, I have that all-important question to answer – what am I going to do after university? Ducking this question would be easier if I had more applications to show for it. It may be a sad situation when a break from writing an essay consists of writing an application, but this is far easier than pushing back the guilt of revising.

In fact, balancing revision between many exams isn’t appealing, but the exam period looks even bleaker when you’re trying to fit in application deadlines and other aspects of student life like part-time work. This really feels like a frustrating juggling act when the inflexibility of exams starts to interfere with other obligations and opportunities.

This all goes to show that we should re-evaluate how our degrees are assessed and whether assessment methods are beneficial for students’ learning, mental well-being and future success. This could include more seen exams to give time for considering ideas and a basic structure or something completely new. Even if traditional exams are found to currently be the best method, isn’t this what Warwick and university is all about: questioning the norm and striving to innovate?

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