Testing times

Hattie / 4th Nov, 2016 / News

How do you feel about exams? If you’re like me, just the word sends shudders down your spine. I hated them. I could just about cope with school coursework. And my teachers, for the most part were supportive and got me through the exams I couldn’t avoid. Lots of GCSE results are thankfully made up of course work.

I don’t think exams are always the best way to assess someone’s capability. They test how much you can remember – and in certain cases how you can form an argument. Still, exams are probably the least worst option we’ve got to give people some sort of universally recognised qualification.

Thing is, the people blessed with the sort of minds that can compute stuff better than others will always do ok in exams. Lucky them. Bad news for the rest of us – we have to demonstrate other attributes. And that’s where the skill of a teacher comes in. Good ones should be able to draw out the best in everyone – and that may not include ticking the box marked exam.

How was it for you?

So, I have to share this latest weirdness.

We learn this week that undergraduates at ten universities will now be asked questions to “assess how hard they are working” and “whether they think their lecturers and tutors have supported their learning.”

Er…what exactly is the point of doing exams if the results don’t test how hard you’re working – and if your teachers are any good?

No point apparently because, academics (ie the lecturers) “might let bright students coast through” without being challenged.

Hang on. Are we saying that because the levels of higher educational teaching haven’t adapted to a bunch of mixed ability students, everyone has to sit a (performance-related) exam on the (academic) exam they’ve sat.

And, that exam (the performance-related one) will test whether the exam (the academic one) was hard enough?


This is mad. I know you can’t make a phone call to a bank or insurance company without them asking if you’d complete a quality survey afterwards. But rating your exam?

Presumably then, if you get graded a poor second class in your (academic) exam, you can rescue the whole thing by getting a first in your (performance-related) exam by claiming that you worked really, really hard but just had a bad day in the (academic) exam. And, you can pin all the blame for your poor performance on the equally poor performance of your teaching staff.

This can’t be good for anyone. Employers will now be faced with yet more layers of complexity to work out if a graduate is any good.

Employer:       “What did you get in your degree?”

Grad:                “I was three marks off a first. But, my performance related examination proved I worked hard and should have got a first – it was my tutor’s fault…I was allowed to cruise…”

Employer:        ?

It’s another poor reflection of education generally – but particularly the higher end.

University teaching should stimulate, excite and encourage broad thinking and not

simply exist to enable more and more people to pick up degrees that are becoming

increasingly devalued.

Anyway, we at Uni’s not for me value your feedback. Please rank this blog where 10 is excellent and 1 is rubbish…


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