Exams miss the mark
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.”