Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Exams again.

I have just completed my last A level exam, and coming so close on the assessment for disabled students allowance I had yesterday it has set me to the customary musing on exams, concessions and alternatives.

Now to begin with my concession for exam is being allowed to complete them on a computer in a separate room, with 25% extra time but spell checking disabled.

It also occurred during my assessment yesterday that to be granted money to by a laptop may not be an option in the future as lap tops become more an more a mainstream necessity for today’s students, it will become something one is expected to provide oneself with anyway and only exceptional software may come as a concession. That would put one at an economic disadvantage rather than a disabled one, as one would be in the same position as any student from a less affluent background.

However I thought too of what the exam was trying to prove. In essence the 25% extra is partly to compensate for not having a spell checker allowed, they give with one hand and take away with the other.

The emphasis on spelling and grammar is there in exams as much as in papers and dissertations, essentially what one is having to prove in an exam is ones ability to recall enough of what one has learnt and to communicate that to a third party under pressure in answer to a specific enquiry. A very narrow scope of knowledge.

For sure the ability to communicate what one has learnt is as important as merely knowing it if one is to go on to any kind of higher education of employment which actually requires one to share knowledge so that I will accept.

What I don't accept is the need to know everything without reference to dictionaries or standard reference materials or notes. Many public speakers will use notes to prompt them, and of course anyone publishing will make use of proof readers if there grammar, phraseology and spelling is in anyway in doubt. Indeed one of the things that the DSA will be to pay for is for me to access that kind of support for my written work.

So a real world test of knowledge would be somewhat more general than a few selected and often badly phrased random exam questions.

I see no reason why someone completely untutored writing an academic paper, using references and a secretary should not gain an equivalent to an exam grade for the final product if that final product better communicates the knowledge one has acquired in the process.

The arguments then come about pressure, it being realistic in a work situation to assume one has to work under pressure and exams are a preparation for that. Not so I say, there are pressures enough having to produce a paper for a deadline, particularly if one is doing ones own research rather than learning in a classroom environment.

Then the pro examination brigade cite the growing amount of plagiarism in favour of exams against course work. To that I say that plagiarism is a problem which needs to be tackled, however, parroting what one has rote learnt cramming for an exam is not exactly being original either.

Well whatever I hope to do well overall in my exams, even though my showing last year was not too good. It is irrelevant to some extent how I do, except to me, because I already have my University place for this Autumn.


Camille said...

Hi Larry,

I have some of the same issues with exams, but mainly I wanted to take the exam in a more or less guaranteed quiet place, and my university was not willing to accomodate that without a fight, and I didn't have the energy to fight for it. Sometimes the exams are taken in quiet rooms and sometimes they aren't.

I think what wore on me worse than the format of the exams was the grading and how one not that great grade could suck all the desire to try away from me. There were situations where I really thought the grading was very unfair (only a couple) and it made we want to give up and not try any more in that course. I wish that we could have just taken off and studied what was interesting to us and do it for the love of learning, using the teachers as critics of what we were doing, but being able to defend one's one answers, and so forth...

I really got sick of school at the end of it, and that's sad because I love to read and love to learn.

At my school they have a special loan program to get money at a low interest rate just for buying a computer. Tha'ts how I got my first laptop. It was a big help for taking notes in class. I never used it or any other computer to do a test, except where all the students were using a computer.

I hope all goes well with you in your future schooling, congratulations on what you've done up until now.

Kristina Chew said...

Congrats for getting through the exams----I am in favor of students who need "accommodations" for more time to write exams or (as Camille notes) a quiet place to write it. I would rather read all that a student can do, under the best of circumstances.

Anne said...

It has been many years since I have taken exams, yet I still have nighmares about them. Exams are my anxiety symbol.

Congratulations for surviving another round of them.

r.b. said...

I am looking for work in the teaching field.

I spoke to a woman yesterday who told of a student she had who was so severely dyslexic he couldn't read past the second grade level. He could, however, answer any question verbally once he heard the information.

She acommodated him, and allowed him to receive a regular degree from high school. This was nice because he was probably one of the brightest students in his class. She ticked a lot of people off by doing it, though, I'm sure.

We would not expect a blind person to read, why do we expect word blind people to do so?

Thank God for secretaries in the "real world", who have acommodated many a brilliant person with dylexia.

Excuse my spelling...

Justthisguy said...

I've found superstition to be somewhat helpful against *examen-angst." I used to refrain from bathing or shaving during Exam Week at Ga. Tech, which I fancied brought me good luck. I apply this superstition to hurricanes, these days. (I live in Southern Florida) I don't bathe or shave from the time we have a Hurricane Watch until the danger is past. So far, it's worked. (knock wood) Haven't been through an eye-wall experience, yet.

Oh, an anecdote along this line: The U.S. Naval Academy's Engineering building is named Rickover Hall, and has a bronze bust of Admiral Rickover in its lobby. I have read that midshipmen going in there to take exams in Nuclear Engineering superstitiously rub Hyman's huge Hebraic honker (the nose of the bust) for good luck in said exams. Reputedly the rest of the bust is getting a nice patina, but the nose is well-polished and shiny. I find this amusing because it is (1) so politically incorrect and (2) such irrationality would have really annoyed Rickover.

(Though I betcha he would have approved of the irreverence.

andrea said...

The true problem is not that some students must struggle to get compensations, but rather that exams are set up in such a way as to require such a solution. It would simply be wiser to create an exam or an exam period with sufficient time, and let everyone have keyboard access, et cetera.

A lot of people forget that the true intent of the exam is to get a rough measure of the student's mastery of the learning objectives, rather than how well the student can sit exams!