Ex­ams miss the mark

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THE cur­rent sys­tem of ex­am­i­na­tions and tests is a rather poor way of as­sess­ing an in­di­vid­ual’s abil­ity to per­form in the real world, yet so much em­pha­sis is placed on exam re­sults.

Life is not al­ways a test and a chal­lenge, where one is ex­pected to work un­der con­stant pres­sure as in an ex­am­i­na­tion room. Ex­am­i­na­tions are about work­ing un­der pres­sure, whereas life is not about that.

Stu­dents are ex­pected to cram a lot of in­for­ma­tion ac­quired in a year, and re­gur­gi­tate it in three hours. Stu­dents who have ex­cel­lent rote learn­ing skills and pho­to­graphic mem­o­ries, or who can spot the right chap­ters, do ex­ceed­ingly well at ex­ams.

The ma­jor­ity of pupils who do not fall into this cat­e­gory un­for­tu­nately do not do well in the exam room, but ex­cel in the work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

I wish to re­fer to the at­ti­tudes of some lec­tur­ers in the tech­nikons, who seem to place all the em­pha­sis on the an­swer and not the method. Stu­dents who have to write un­der pres­sure of time are prone to mak­ing mi­nor er­rors in their cal­cu­la­tions. The rest of the method of their cal­cu­la­tions would be cor­rect but the fi­nal an­swer would be wrong be­cause they did not change a sign, say, by ac­ci­dent, pres- sure or over­sight. For lec­tur­ers in our tech­nikons and col­leges, the sum would be wrong be­cause the an­swer is wrong, so they would fail the stu­dent. Surely the method has to count for some­thing. The en­tire sum can­not be wrong if the method is cor­rect.

Th­ese lec­tur­ers lit­tle re­alise the amount of dam­age they do to young hard- work­ing stu­dents when they mark them down so cal­lously.

In spite of its short­com­ings, the cur­rent exam sys­tem is the most con­ve­nient way of as­sess­ing thou­sands of stu­dents at one time in a most cost­ef­fec­tive way. That said, what we can do is to im­prove it to pro­duce bet­ter grad­u­ates on a just and fair ba­sis.

Ex­am­in­ers must stop be­ing ob­sessed with an­swers and fo­cus on whether stu­dents have the ap­ti­tude to solve sim­ple prob­lems to cope with the de­mands of the work­place. Ques­tions should be set in such a way as to test stu­dents and not to trick them. The lat- ter seems to be a sadis­tic trend by some lec­tur­ers.

Bright lec­tur­ers must put their egos and pride aside, and re­mem­ber that the can­di­dates they are test­ing have worked hard the whole year and want to get on with their lives. The least that is ex­pected of lec­tur­ers is that they not break the morale of stu­dents by the way they set pa­pers and mark them. The work sit­u­a­tion pre­pares stu­dents for the real chal­lenges of life, not the en­clo­sure of the class­room.

The great irony of all the years of slog­ging is that 90 per­cent of what is learnt is for­got­ten within a month of the ex­ams, so one won­ders how rel­e­vant all that was taught re­ally was. As Einstein said: “Books can teach you a lot but not as much as you can learn from ex­pe­ri­ence.”

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