Diary Of A Third Year: 'Exams are a relic of a bygone age and must be abolished'
Thursday 04 February 2010
The exam season has nearly ended. The crowds in the library are thinning and there are fewer groups of smokers outside exam halls. For me, though, the exam season has been a breeze – mainly because I haven't had any.
This little quirk means that I have become unpopular among my friends. I nod as they complain about stress. No exams means I've effectively had a six-week holiday. While others have been spending 12 hours a day in the library, I went skiing. I'd hate me too.
The only piece of work I had to complete in the exam period was a 3,000-word coursework essay. It was a relatively dull topic, but the nature of the assessment meant I had to read widely, really engage with the arguments and come up with a thoughtful, thorough answer. In other words, I actually learned something, an outcome that rarely emerges from exams.
Exams promote a cynical approach to learning. "Will this be in the exam?" is a question that lecturers get sick of hearing. Students know they only have three hours of writing to demonstrate years of studying, so they rip a subject down to its bare necessities. Learning for learning's sake is a lovely ideal, but unfortunately doesn't get you a degree. Exams are there to be beaten, not savoured.
Revising thus takes the form of learning a few choice facts, rehearsing some controversial arguments that will interest a marker and practising vomiting this in as little time as possible. Once completed, anything you learnt for the exam leaves your brain as quickly as it entered.
Few skills are gained from this approach. A future employer will not one day approach you and say: "Right, I want an analysis of the last quarter's figures on my desk in three hours. I want it written by hand, from memory." The only benefit from writing frantically for three hours is a stronger wrist.
Exams are a relic of a bygone age. The focus on the ability to memorise and regurgitate a number of facts or arguments seems misplaced in an era when information can be accessed more easily than ever. Despite every piece of coursework I submit having to be typed, exams are handwritten.
On top of this, exams are farcical occasions. They take place in a room the size of an aircraft hanger, on a wobbly, graffiti strewn table in the company of 400 other people. Inevitably, one exam will finish before yours. This means, in the middle of your paper, 150 people get up and leave with a mass scraping of chairs and muted whooping. Depending on the season, there will be a vocal minority of cold or hay fever sufferers, one of whom will sit directly behind you.
Thus students are faced with three hours of uncomfortable misery, to be tested on something they will have forgotten by the next day.
They should be pensioned-off, with our work assessed on whether we can access, use and analyse information quickly. They are still around, however. Like them or not, students have to sit them. Well, I don't but my friends do.
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