While working on written assignments can be tough, most students would be more than happy to write a dozen homework tasks in place of a single exam. It is difficult to imagine another aspect of college life that would be as despised – and for a good reason. However, what exactly makes exams so bad? Why are students so afraid of them? Why does spending your out-of-school time working on, let’s say, an accounting assignment, feel preferable to taking an exam during your designated college hours? In this article, we will look into it and try to answer this question.
One of the most hated things about exams is that they give you only a very limited amount of time to complete your tasks. Typically, your time is limited to no more than a couple of hours. Over that period, you have to get acquainted with all the assignments, decide which of them you should better tackle first, remember how you are supposed to be solving this or that kind of problem, and so on. Usually, the time allotted for exams is barely enough for an average student to complete all the assignments – in case everything proceeds smoothly. If you stumble somewhere or forget how to do something, you can easily lose momentum and lose an opportunity to complete everything on time. All this creates stress; even those students who have no trouble solving their math problems start making mistakes out of sheer nervousness.
When you take an exam, you are completely on your own. There is nobody to help you. It does not mean that most students just go around and say, “Do my assignments” to everybody they know when they work on their homework. It is the very possibility to ask for assistance that matters. Perhaps you always do all your homework on your own and never ask for help. Nevertheless, you are always a click away from going online to look up something: a few statistics related to your topic, the way you proceed with this programming difficulty, the name of a historical figure you just cannot get right. You may never use these opportunities, but you have them, and it creates a sense of confidence and security. When you take an exam, you have nothing but your memory, and it often feels woefully inadequate.
Despite multiple efforts taken over the years to prevent it and punish those to resort to such tactics, cheating continues to be a major problem. The very nature of exams makes it a viable approach, and many students do not so much revise for exams as they develop methods to cheat during them. When there is such a cheap and effective alternative to actually studying, it is obvious that something is wrong with the system.
An exam, in and of itself, is nothing but an artificial construct aimed at evaluating students’ grasp of a certain discipline. It has no meaning or value of its own. Nevertheless, exams currently occupy a central position in our educational system. Students at all academic levels study not so much to acquire knowledge and prepare for real-world challenges as they study to become better at taking exams. As a result, throughout all the years they spend in school and college, they work to become better at something that has nothing to do with real-life challenges and problems.
It does not matter what form an exam takes and what discipline we are talking about. It is, by definition, primarily a test of memory rather than one’s analytical skills, creativity, or actual understanding of the subject. As long as you can repeat the facts, rules, and principles the way you have read them in a textbook, you are alright. It does not matter whether you understand what you have read. In fact, many students “read up” for their exams a few days or weeks before they take them and cram the information into their heads just so they can pass. Needless to say, this approach to studying means that most of this information is swiftly forgotten a few days or weeks after the exam, as they feel they no longer need it.
Even if we dismiss for a minute how stress and nervousness affect one’s performance during an exam per se, they influence students’ life in general as well. Exams tend to play a tremendous role in one’s academic evaluation. You may work hard throughout a term, get good grades, complete all your class and home assignments, and yet your final results are determined by a few hours in an exam hall that is completely unrelated to everything you did so far. It is not just stressful; it is demotivating and disheartening as well. Why bother doing all these assignments and paying attention in class in the first place if it all can be canceled out in an instant?
All in all, coursework is much better at reflecting the student’s skills, abilities, and progress made over time. It has its drawbacks, of course – for example, a professor cannot be sure the student has completed that Java assignment on his/her own, but neither is it possible to be sure if he/she passed an exam without cheating. When all is said and done, the results one shows over time, as demonstrated by multiple assignments, one’s activity in class, and participation in projects, provide a much more accurate picture of one’s abilities.
However, abolishing exams is hardly a solution – some kind of formal system has to be in place, and they have their positives. For example, they teach us how to solve problems under pressure. What is wrong with them right now is the amount of importance we attach to them – if we stop building the entire educational system around exams, they will lose many of their negative aspects.