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.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food