Letter: Examining exams
Friday 28 August 1998
The chance to learn as much as possible about one's favourite subject, and to come to understand it and to internalise its methods and subject- matter thoroughly enough to be able to pass examinations, is a chance to demonstrate a good memory, to discriminate between the essential and the peripheral, to distinguish between authoritative argument born of understanding and mere orderly recitation of facts and to show that one is psychologically robust enough to exercise independent thought and judgement under pressure.
I suggest that, to settle this question, universities teaching academic subjects should offer students a choice on their first day: course work or exams - the latter with some course-work in the form of a dissertation. If the options are equally demanding, and equally productive of those characteristics which bring students the respect of their peers and future employers, they will quickly become known as furnishing genuinely equivalent academic qualifications. But if one option should turn out to attract resourceful bright sparks while the other becomes favoured by comparative plodders, dullards and precis-merchants, that will quickly become known, too. Employers can then make their choices.
Either way, it is essential that degrees are not devalued as academic qualifications. The way to be happy at university is to do a subject because you are endlessly fascinated by it - rather than as an exercise in social climbing, parent-pleasing or intellectual therapy. The real virtue of exams is that they reward genuine involvement in and enthusiasm for a subject.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientists who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 3 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' by Antiques Roadshow's Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 4 Meet Thea, Norway's 12-year-old child bride
- 5 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
Breaking Bad season 6 is still not happening
Doctor Who review 'Flatline': Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened
X Factor 2014 results: Chloe Jasmine and Stephanie Nala sent home
Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' by Antiques Roadshow's Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'