Coming out of school having just finished my A-level exams and looking forward to my academic future at university, I was not expecting there to be many similarities. The differences in teaching style between school and university are considerable. Instead of classrooms, teachers and weeks to learn topics – we now have lecturers and tutors with a topic per week for each module. So, if the way in which we learn is so different, why should the way in which we are examined be so similar?
Naturally, my opinion will be focused towards my course, PAIS, and thus the points I make will not necessarily be valid across the entire university. A large part of my course is reading and essays. Lots and lots of reading and essays. So naturally, I feel that the most efficient way to be examined and assessed is through academic essays, and being given time to read widely and create our own ideas. For all modules across my course, we write essays throughout the year, some formative and some summative. For these essays, we are expected to spend several days on each, having once been told to spend around “10 days” on an individual essay. In first year, these essays are around 1000 – 3000 words long, only getting longer as you progress to second and third year. So why are we then asked to produce essays in exams with a structure that barely mirror those of what we have created throughout the year so far? More worryingly, why are we asked to write 4 in the scope of 3 hours?
There is so much that rides on every exam, that if even one doesn’t go your way it can have detrimental effect on an entire years worth of work. Especially for courses where exams are the main form of assessment. I probably am not only speaking for myself when I say that I need to be in a certain mindset to do well in exams, which is naturally helped by a good environment. So, when people are getting up and leaving early, and creating distractions – it doesn’t really help. This is where the university needs to improve standards and discipline.
People should be made to remain quiet and only be able to leave if they have to go to the bathroom or in an emergency
People should be made to remain quiet and only be able to leave if they have to go to the bathroom or in an emergency. Then when it comes to actually getting your marks back, initially you’re waiting to hear whether you have passed or failed, and then the next day you find out your actual grades. You may know the day, but you’re not given a time. So, for many, this means waiting around for the day. We are paying £9000 a year to be at this university, even more for international students, so for something this important, there really should be a level of respect and empathy for students that I simply haven’t seen.
Exams themselves are not for everyone; the stress and the pressure doesn’t sit well with many people. Some studies estimate that up to 78% of university students will suffer from some form of mental health issues – an increase from at school level. Exams only increase the severity of such cases as stress is one of the biggest factors effecting anxiety. Luckily in my department as the years go on, there is an increased choice of being assessed by exam or essay, catering more for the individual student. This needs to continue.
At Warwick, students not only suffering from mental health issues, but anything that would affect their assessed work can submit a ‘mitigating circumstances’ application. If mitigating circumstances are allowed, the student can receive some form of leeway on their assessed work. But a lot of the time this falls through, especially with mental health circumstances that are severe but not necessarily diagnosed – so very hard to put on paper. Which is the case for most university mental health cases. So, all in all, exams and mental health do not mix well together – and a lot of the time there is very little the student can do about it. At universities, where there is a mental health crisis, there is a lot further to go in making exams more accessible for students.