Anti-exam

Tomorrow another written exam followed by the two worst days of the year next Monday and Tuesday…. I hate exams… one of the most useless and anti-learning inventions known…

I agree. I’m from a culture where final exams constitute 100% of the final grade, and that’s a system that is way too easy to game. I gamed it for 5 years, so I should know.

If I were allowed not to hold any final exams, I would gladly dispense with them. But my school is weirdly obsessed with filling classroom seats with bodies during the exam week, so I can’t.

I try to rescue the concept of the final exam by walking around the entire 1 hour 40 minutes and working with each student individually. I teach language and literature. The teaching can’t be about people sitting around in silence. If a student spent the whole class session in silence, it means I failed at my job. When I was undergoing my pedagogy training, the professor would show up to my class, sit in the back with a timer, and make scary faces at me whenever I talked too much. (Curiously, there are still schools that castigate teachers for establishing a dialogue with students instead of lecturing. I’m looking at you, Concordia University.)

I also assign the lowest possible value to my final exams when I’m allowed to. I just don’t like the concept. The best thing about North American higher education system is that people are present and engaged all semester instead of appearing at the very end and rattling off stuff they memorized from the textbook.

I also detest textbooks. I assign a crapton of readings, obviously, but I like to tailor them to each course.

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11 thoughts on “Anti-exam”

  1. But with the new pedagogy principle of “Constructivism approach by skills”, didacticians are trying to inflict “mandatory to pass the course” final exams to students and teachers, and the cognitivist in me hates that so much.

    It’s probably one of the reasons why they don’t want me as a cégep teacher…

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  2. I also detest textbooks. I assign a crapton of readings, obviously, but I like to tailor them to each course.

    Undergraduate textbooks in mathematics should be kept by students after the course is over. They will often be valuable references in future years. It is too bad that textbook prices have become so high that many students simply cannot afford to keep them.

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  3. “final exams constitute 100% of the final grade, and that’s a system that is way too easy to game”

    yeah, it used to be that they just got pass/fail for classes and the only grades they got were exams… a few years ago they introduced grades for classes too (if only they’d downgrade the importance of the stupid exams).

    exams might make a tiny bit of sense of they were given by different people than those that taught the courses, but… no such luck.

    Very occasionally a very talented student crashes and burns on an exam or a good test taker does extra well (the idea of ‘good test taker’ being distinct from ‘gifted student’ is mostly a non-starter here…) but almost all the time the exams are just extra work to tell me something I already know…

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  4. I am in STEM. In most undergrad courses in the physical sciences, the final is important — I need the students to show me they can actually solve problems, beginning to end, based on what they learned in class. That is the criterion of mastery. Far too many of my colleagues want the students to “understand the principles” which means bullshit and handwave around a problem. If the students really understand the principles, they will demonstrate so by being able to solve problems that involve those principles.

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    1. “That is the criterion of mastery”

      That’s skills testing which certainly has a place in and outside of universities and it’s not what I’m complaining about.
      I’m complaining about ‘exams’ where (by design) the students are doing the same things (often literally, the exact same things) they’ve done in class during the semester being graded by the same teachers… except suddenly with a bunch more pressure and higher stakes.
      It takes too much time and effort for too little return….

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