Exams are unfair modes of assessment; discuss.

Exams should no longer been seen as effective methods of assessment; at least not unseen papers consisting of three essay type questions to be answered in three hours that cover a three month intense theoretical based course. I took one of these ‘bad experiences’ this week; at an exam centre I’d never been to before; it had with no car parking facilities, and was in the centre of York, over 50 miles from my home, all factors that added to the stress. The subject of the course was psychoanalytical and sociological theories of identity construction. It was helpful that this covered materials from the subject of my first MA in Gender Studies. I felt I had knowledge and understanding of the subject matter but knew from the start that when it came to an exam, then recall was going to be a problem. I’m taking an MA in Open and Distance Education with the OU and their study materials are excellent. I read the preparation for exams booklet from front to back, followed a revision plan and drew the mind maps that suited my visual learning style. But an hour into the exam and I knew that I couldn’t ‘remember’ any more than I’d already made notes on. It was like my memory was saying enough is enough and had shut down. I could see my diagrams in my head, the shapes and the colours, but not the text. I don’t know if this is a learning disorder, early Alzheimer’s or a symptom of a heavy work load that regularly extends into evenings and weekends. What I do know is that it felt like an unfair assessment of my ability, and I felt discriminated against by a mode of assessment that for me just doesn’t reflect my knowledge and understanding or allow me to do myself justice. I would be very interested in other people’s response to this.

2 Replies to “Exams are unfair modes of assessment; discuss.”

  1. There is no fair method of assessment. Maybe with the exception of basic maths tests.

    The advantage of exams is that they are a controlled environment, with the Internet it’s getting easier and easier to cheat on essays, but 3 hours is quite brutal. Then again, would you prefer 3 one hour exams with time to prep between them? Fairer, but another 2 drives+parking. And probably more expensive to administer.

    I think mixed assessment is fairer as it ensures that nobody gets completely screwed by exam-brain-lockup, but also that nobody can get really good marks by downloading an essay. (although anti-plaug. tools are getting better all the time)

  2. Hi Sue,
    I’m currently in my 3rd year at Lincoln studying Law, and I completely agree with you. Exams are an unfair means of assessment. Some people are better in exam situations and some are better when writing coursework.
    I have the same issue as yourself when going into an exam. You can do so much preparation before hand, enough so you can literally recall it without even looking at the pieces of paper, and then when you actually sit at the desk and go to write the exam, you blank. It’s the most frustrating feeling, knowing that you could answer the questions if you were in any other situation but the one you’re actually in!

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