Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 35 No 5. March 29, 1972
The New Examning Disaster
The New Examning Disaster
V.U.W. has been moving toward consistent assigning of part of course marks to work done before the final exams. This move seems to have been made for a variety of reasons. One argument for the system, advanced in a faculty meeting, was that it would keep the customers working all year instead of just before finals. The customers seem to like the idea partly because it reduces the threatening nature of finals.
In an ideal University no grades or degrees would be given and people would attend only if they wanted to find out or create something. Those who wanted status, promotion chances, or a ticket to carry for the rest of their lives would have no cause to appear there. There are plenty of reasons why this sort of institution might not exist. However, there are also excellent reasons why it should remain an ideal. The finest intellectual achievements are made by people who are committed to their work, often pursuing it without social support or recognition or, if necessary, in the face of considerable obstacles. In some cases, success and recognition actually seem to destroy the ability to produce.. The University needs people who want to find out, to produce, to make a contribution to knowledge. It does not need people who want to be constantly assured they are getting nearer and nearer a final stamp of approval.
The 'older' system of assigning marks only at the end of year certainly has disadvantages, though these are often the result of poor examining practices. At least it does leave students a large portion of the year in which they might become involved in their subjects without preoccupation with external rewards, or punishments. Assignments not carrying finals marks can be approached in a more self-motivated way. Side issues can be explored and unconventional interpretations tried without preoccupation with external rewards, or punishments. Assignments not carrying finals marks can be approached in a more self-motivated way. Side issues can be explored and unconventional interpretations tried without prejudicing finals marks. Of course many students do little work during the year and often scramble through with a great last minute effort. But, we are fools if we modify our system to accomodate students who prefer, or will not work without reward in the form of marks. In doing this we would make the University inhospitable to the people it needs most.
On completing his exams, Einstein found the coercion of cramming made the consideration of any scientific problem distasteful for a full year. If present trends at Victoria continue, any future Einstein and any lesser versions of him, might not get as far as a final exam let alone drag themselves through a degree. If a change is needed it is a change to less frequent, not more frequent grading.
If the threat of finals causes students to become unhinged by fear, then why not reduce some of the fearinducing properties of exams? Why not, for a start, reduce the anxiety-provoking effect of uncertainty by making exam questions, or at least more details about them public? Why not discuss questions in advance? Why not have students suggest questions? Why not let them set their own question? My argument against reducing the importance of finals by spreading marks over the whole year could be supported, at some points, by research evidence. However, rather than appeal to the authority of research studies which readers are unlikely to check, I hope that the truth will at last be self evident and the new and supposedly liberal system will be seen for what it is: a system suited to children at an intermediate stage of motivational development where external rewards are all-important.
I am for joining the revolution, but please let it go up not down.