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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971

1 Exams

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1 Exams

Do students hate finals? Do they want anything else in their place? Although students have rarely attempted to supply coherent answers to these questions, a Committee on Examining, set up last year by the Professorial Board, met many times to discuss the system of examinations within this university. The students representative on the committee was Bob Phelps (Education Officer last year). The reason for setting up the Committee was dissatisfication with the requirement that examination papers have to be written and submitted to the administration by the middle of the academic year - the ideal being that teaching should determine the content of exams and not that preplanned exam papers should determine teaching content.

Final recommendations by the Committee included the following points:
(1)that commencing in 1972 final degree examinations in Stage I units (or the equivalent) be discontinued and the results be based on work done in term.
(2)that Heads of Departments be given the option of adhering to existing arrangements for examining at STage II and III or transferring to in-term assessment.
(3)That Recommendation (1) does not apply to the Law Faculty or any other course requiring external assessment.
(4)That Heads of Departments in consultation with staff be free to nominate which work done by students in a course will be assessed, and that they do so in such a way that students know exactly where they stand.
(5)That examination in term time be generally of one-hour's duration, and that no such examination exceed two hours except with the consent of the Academic Committee. Changes in the academic year are also proposed.

For Arts students, a relevant factor is the introduction of the new course system next year, which may consist of quarter, third or half year courses. The proposed reorganisation of the year does not include quarter or third year examination times. This is important: they do not recommend the adoption of the American semester system.

If the new recommendations were adopted, assessment would be based on all or most of the work done in the course - if there were final exams they would only constitute a small percentage of the total course marks. It will be obvious to students that some departments have already moved many steps in this direction. However, there are several implications behind these suggestions. If the new scheme was to be effective, staff members and students would have to be well informed (and they are not at the moment) about the different types of assessment, what they measure, the types of teaching and study methods applicable and the time involved in each, This involves staff teacher training so that the widest range of assessment techniques can be carried out with valid and reliable results. The wider the range of assessment type the more accurately and fairly the teacher can measure individual ability. Results will vary according to the measurement used.

So although, in some ways, the Report is perhaps only making explicit what is now frequently practised, public recognition of changing attitudes to assessment, would make it easier to introduce teacher training schemes which are seriously needed, and generally, public recognition would force students to reconsider what purpose finals serve, and more generally, what sort of education they expect at university. Ideally, it would also lead to a more uniform (in the sense that there would be widespread agreement for a greater variety of assessment methods) assessment and teaching policy, at least within Faculties, and this would lessen confusion and uneven work loads.

The main argument for in-term assessment (left undefined) is that cramming for finals would no longer be the major occupation of many students and end of year stress would be eliminated. Against this is the argument that continuing assessment may stultify a student's intellectual growth and that strain may be more continuous throughout the year. The Report offers one answer - each department seems to have a different one. There is no final, right one, so if you want to influence assessment in your university, become informed and act at a student, departmental or administrative level - there are opportunities at every point.

Kate Clark.