Should Universities Abandon Examinations Altogether?

Educational examinations are so frequent throughout a child’s life that by the time they get to university it seems only natural that they continue to be one of the primary ways we assess someone’s knowledge of a subject. However, many people are beginning to question just how worthwhile exams are when it comes to measuring someone’s knowledge of a subject. Could it be time for us to scrap exams completely?

The problems with coursework
One of the most common alternative methods of assessing students is through coursework. However, coursework also has its problems as far as a tool for assessment goes.

Firstly, there is a fear that it is becoming easier to plagiarise when it comes to handing in coursework. Although there is technology that is constantly being updated to try and detect plagiarised work, it is not fool-proof, and some students may be able to do well by stealing other people’s ideas and presenting them as their own.

Even more alarmingly, there are many websites openly advertising essay writing services. Some students, particularly those from wealthy backgrounds, could be able to afford to have someone else write their essay. Meanwhile, another student who juggles a part-time job just to fund their way through university must struggle to get their essay in before the deadline and the marker is none the wiser. This obviously isn’t right.

Exams generally stop students from cheating by plagiarism or getting someone else to do their work. Of course there are still ways to cheat in an exam, but because they are controlled environments it is much more difficult.

The trouble with exams
Many people suggest that exams are not a very good indicator of a person’s intelligence. Not only that, but exam conditions these days are so alien from real life that they almost seem pointless.

The internet is so readily available on any number of devices that not having to commit everything to memory seems redundant. Students are not being examined on how they think, but instead on what they can remember.

There is also a strong argument against examinations in the fact that during those two or so hours where you are supposed to be fully focused on the paper in front of you, you could just be having a bad day. Having to determine months of lectures on several hours’ worth of exams seems utterly preposterous.


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The conclusion
Judging a student entirely on examinations is unfair. Students with better memories rather than those with a better understanding of the subject perform best.

However, assessing the same students purely on written work that they produce in their own time also has its own problems. How can an examiner be sure that the work they are reading is actually produced by the student?

So what is the answer? It would seem that the fairest way to grade students would be to use a variety of assessment methods. Sitting exams, submitting essays and perhaps even giving a presentation to a class would allow students to demonstrate their capabilities.

Or perhaps we need a new type of exam, where students are given access to the internet, and plenty of times to really formulate their ideas and show what they’re really capable of. Either way, assessment solely on the basis of examinations should not be considered a reliable method of measuring a candidate’s ability.

This post was written on behalf of OCVC.

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