Wednesday, April 30, 2003

This is what I wrote last year for my English class, but the
thought of it has existed for a much longer time in my head.
When I came to America, I thought I would see a much
different and more reseanoble method for testing, but
unfortunately, its the same thing or even worse than
what we had in Iran

Examinations Kill the Spirit of Learning

It’s a pity and at the same time a big surprise that despite all the developments in the science field and progresses made in different fields of study, the methods of testing a person’s knowledge and ability are primitive as ever they were. While there are much safer ways to test someone’s knowledge, educationists have still failed to replace exams with something more efficient and reliable. The current testing method is stressful, can harm the learning process severely and isn’t a measure of student’s true abilities.
Examinations are second to none in making anxiety. Knowing that the grade will remain forever in the student’s academic record, being the one and only way for passing the course, its limited time and the necessity to take it on a certain day and time are all factors that together make the current method of testing stressful. The fact that the grade will stay forever with the student as a reminder of his level of achievement can be a real cause of distress. Even if the student learns the material better than all of his peers at that time in the class, it will always show that at a certain time he was not as good as he should have been. Being the last chance for the student to show his merits can give rise to an overwhelming amount of stress, while the mere knowing that this is not the last opportunity can reduce the level of anxiety to a great extent.
They are especially stressful for slower students because of their limited time. Determining the illegibility for scholarship is another thing that causes stress.
Examinations can severely harm the learning process. For some students the grade itself can become the main reason for learning. This is somewhat because of their parents’ or friends’ expectations but more is a product of testing method itself. The level of student’s success and understanding of the material is represented by the grade; scholarship is offered on this basis and it is the main factor for universities to accept students. When so much depends on them, the main focus of the student will be on the grades he gets. As a result instead of trying to learn more, they will only learn to get higher grades. In this way exams don’t encourage them to read widely, but in fact restrict it. On the other hand they can give the wrong impression of knowing the material to the student who has gotten a good grade; this false confidence is an empty feeling that can prove to be really harmful later. When the graduate finally enters the real world outside, he can only be in for a shock. The funny thing is that the teachers themselves are judged by exam results, so they teach their students in exam techniques rather than their subjects. Lastly, they can create a vicious competition among students that kills the spirit of learning by inflaming jealousy and enmity feelings.
Examinations are not a measure of a student’s knowledge and ability because of some very obvious reasons. Each instructor has his own way of testing; some are hard and some are easy in their exams. Test itself is more a measure of one’s memory or the knack of working under pressure in short time or cramming more in the nights before exams than a person’s true aptitude. The stress caused by the exam doesn’t let the student use all his abilities .No one can perform normally in terror or after a sleepless night.
Exams don’t take into consideration your psychological condition. If you are badly sick or you’ve just gotten a driving ticket or somebody you loved has died they won’t take them into account. These minor things cannot bother them. Teachers can exert their own personal taste in grading and this is where prejudice or personal likes and dislikes can play their discriminating roles.
Maybe the biggest argument put forward against all this is that we don’t have something to replace exams. That it is not a practical proposition to abolish them and that we will never be able to do without them; how can we evaluate students after all? My answer to this would be, yes, we have to evaluate students, but we don’t have to put them in a position to dread exams and yearn for the moment they are over with it. My objection is to exams in their current form; it’s true that we cannot move from where we are directly to obliterating them, but we can take steps and every step taken makes us able to see more of the path we have to go. We can standardize exams, remove the necessity to take them in a certain day and hour, give the students at least three chances to take them before they pass them and don’t give them a grade for it. They also can be made more realistic in a sense that they reflect more of the problems the student will encounter in life.
Considering all these, the question is that why we still have to put up with exams as the method of assessing abilities. There hasn’t been much development in this area or they have been so lukewarm. Some of the reasons that they still exist are conceivable: teachers are in good company, they use it as a way to control students,
it’s easier for them because in case they cannot cover the material they will make the exam easier and they don’t have to adjust to a standard way of teaching, since they have their own exams. The truth is that we would be much better off without them.
(posted by Farid)

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