Why university exams are completely overrated

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Have you ever wondered why vitamins and supplements that help your memory and your focus are so heavily promoted in early winter and spring? The answer is simple: exams. These are the two periods when pubs and clubs are empty and the university library becomes as busy as a beehive. This is the time of the year when students finally let go of their gadgets and move to traditional, non-technological items such as books.

Because I doubt there is any need to argue, we will just take as a given, the fact that the vast majority of students only start working at the last minute. I guess man was conceived with a slight defficiency in keeping the “next time I’ll start working early” promise. And pharma companies immediately responded, because (duh) people obviously become more stressed and their ability to focus is reduced when everything is done at the last minute.

Now, let’s get back to today’s relevance of exams. Are exams still an appropriate method to measure knowledge today, in the hyper-connected digital age, where all the information we need is at our fingertips? Job descriptions use the word “skills” rather than “knowledge”. Does knowing something equal the ability of putting it into practice?

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One may argue that exams are a good way to assess a person’s understanding on a given topic. While they may have some positive aspects in primary school and high-school by generating a certain level of competition and making students aware of the importance of studying, are exams not completely overrated in university, which is supposed to develop a certain set of abilities and prepare the students for their future jobs? Additionally, how much of the knowledge one has right before the exam is actually remembered months after? Do exams actually promote long-term learning?

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It’s not even about arguing whether exams are biased or unbiased, whether actually everybody has an equal chance of doing well or not, whether exams are a motivating factor for students to work or not. It is, however, about the outcomes of exams on the students’ post-university life. A university student is expected to be mature enough to be responsible for his education and work. Grades are rarely a proof of a person’s ability to perform well in a real work environment (of course, we’re not comparing a failing student with a “Suma cum Laude” student). People’s profiles vary, and this is why one can choose between starting to work in the industry, or continuing into research. Some people are more academic than others, while some are more practical.

Another question, which I believe is relevant, is: how many times does a working person have to solve a problem or perform a task with no other information or resources available? I believe what is more important is the ability to find the information one needs in order to solve a problem or perform a task, and this, in my experience, in university, is only done during actual, practical, real life like projects.

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts, as this is a topic open for discussion!

Ioana

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