Student examination methods need future reconsideration

If results are not considerably affected by open examination, perhaps there is little to be said about the use of closed exams

We all dread exams with the same trepidation as a visit to the dentist or the first day of school. For the lucky few, learning facts and figures comes easily, while the rest of us struggle to cram enough information into our heads for those few hours that count so much.

What a stroke of luck, then, if what you thought were sample questions on the VLE are labelled “2011” and might just be the very questions you were dreading. That was the case for some second-year Politics students this term.

While this may be perceived as an unfair advantage by some, the Board decided to let the results stand. Strangely enough, there was no dramatic difference in marks between those who had seen the questions beforehand and those who hadn’t.

the question remains as to what place closed exams have in some subjects

What does this show then? The futility of revision or the inefficiency of the closed exam system? With all this extra time to revise, how was it that there was not a group with higher marks than those unfortunate not to have seen them.

The answer, of course, is that the nature of exams in arts subjects like History and Politics have changed. They are now a test of how students structure their arguments, think in a logical manner and even, dare I say, their originality.

Are we therefore forced to question the effectiveness of assessment in this manner? For arts students, assessed essays or open exams can be argued as being a better system, as they allow students the opportunity to present their own arguments without the constraints of memory or time. For historians, trying to recall facts from memory is an artificial way of writing an essay; real historians constantly consult both primary and secondary sources to construct their piece.

This may not be the right option for all subjects. For instance, in the sciences building up a base of facts is probably more helpful to their work, while medical students may only have a moment to recall information when working in the future with patients.

While for many departments both open and closed exams remain in operation, the question remains as to what place closed exams have in some subjects. This example shows that there is only so much you can learn before sitting some exams, and it is more talent and essay writing skill that will get you through.

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