Let’s talk about why we get so fed up with exams.
Supposedly, these exams should filter out the strong from the weak, the smart from the not-so-smart. We need exams to figure out whether we actually learnt anything. We need exams to tell us how intelligent we are/how convincingly we can write/how creative we can be.
The thing is, most exams at the moment don’t do that.
They’re better indicators of how well you know the mark scheme/how hard you crammed/how agreeable your examiner happens to be at that moment.
There are two ways the exams might be ‘improved’, and which one you prefer depends on where your strengths lie.
First Proposed Solution: Relevant Questions
The first is to have more interesting, creative and relevant questions in exams so that we are actually learning skills that might be useful in the real world.
The people who are more eloquent, creative and better problem-solvers will excel at these sorts of questions. Crammers won’t be able to predict these questions so the intelligent, well-rounded sort of people will get the top marks, right?
Wrong. By having a question with a larger scope, the mark scheme will have to be very lenient to allow for creative ways of thinking and problem-solving. A lenient mark scheme means that someone who doesn’t know what they’re saying (me) can bulls**t without knowing anything and still get the marks.
What’s worse, though, is that it’s now down to the examiners to decide which solutions are ‘better’, making the marking very subjective.
If one examiner decides a creative solution is ingenious, whilst another thinks it is ludicrous, this makes for a very unfair system. And since exams are (at the moment) hypothetical, who’s to say which solution is better than another?
Second Proposed Solution: Eliminate Examiner Subjectivity
Students should be graded on their ability, not their examiner’s niceness. This means that there needs to be a very strict mark scheme, with no opportunity for erroneous marking.
However, a strict mark scheme will only test whether you’ve learnt the material on the syllabus rigorously. That means that crammers can pull off an all-nighter and get top marks, whether or not they learnt anything all year or will remember anything afterwards.
The bigger problem, though, is that this doesn’t differentiate the creative from the unoriginal, the bright from the dull, or the eloquent from the inexpressive.
There Is No Simple Solution
At the moment, exams are a mixture of the two sorts described above. Depending on your subject, this means that some questions are very textbook, whilst others are more creative and allow a little free reign.
Some subjects are more textbook (*ahem* physics) whilst others are more reliant on persuasiveness and creativity (history and ToK, I’m looking at you). This means that the different types of people do get differentiated, and it’s what makes people better at some subjects than others.
Mixing the two types of questions incorporates the different methods of differentiating but there will always be complaints about the problems. You just can’t get the good without the bad. If you complain about the specificity of the mark scheme, you won’t be any happier with a non-specific and more subjective one.
What do you think? Do you think there is a better method for examination? Which solution would you prefer? Let me know!