Exams are an important measure of a student’s success. A student’s performance in their exam has an influence on their future education, career choices etc. Exams are therefore a vital tool to assess the skills and capabilities of students. However, exam as a form of assessment was created in the 19th century. It is now the 21st century and the skills that were tested through exams in the 19th century are not the same set of skills required in the 21st century. Therefore exams are archaic and an outdated approach of learning and how knowledge is tested.
The use of technology in the classroom to aid learning is a new phenomenon that has recently been introduced. With technology and the internet, students have a plethora of sources to refer to and are not just limited to a set of recommended textbooks. Exams can’t test all sources of learning; it is constricted to the knowledge provided by a collection of few sources. Therefore, the use of the internet and other sources is a distraction from the given texts and students should consequently limit their learning to the textbooks provided. This approach is not practical for certain reasons; textbooks present information from the time period in which they were written and do not present current developments in the field, students also may not have access to the appointed textbooks and the internet is an easier tool to obtain knowledge. Hence, exams are not a wholesome measure to test the information a student has in a particular field.Another limitation is that with written exams, there is a lot of focus on grades and whether a student will pass or fail a certain subject. This consequently is shifting the focus from curiosity and learning to how well an individual can memorize a set of things.
With the presence of exams, it gives the idea that if a student cannot perform well, they will not be successful. This is not true as there have been very successful school or college dropouts like Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates to name a few. These individuals are pioneers in their fields but the paradox arises because they are not graduates. They dropped out of school yet are successful. Steven Spielberg was rejected from his preferred University because of poor grades. This means that he was a bad test taker but that did not mean he did not have ideas and a grasp of the subject. He is now one of the most recognized names in the film industry. This evidence shows that exams are not an accurate measure of the knowledge held by the person.
I do not have a problem with exams being used to test knowledge. Exams are important. They can be used by teachers to see what the student’s knowledge is about a particular subject area. It helps put the student in a stressful environment where they need to use information to solve a certain set of problems. Moreover, it is a form of testing the knowledge that we hold. The problem arises when exams are the only tool used to test knowledge held by the person and when a person’s performance and grade is completely dependent on how well they write an exam.
Exams simply put, are monotonous. They do not motivate students towards learning. Students should want to be tested and exams just do not bring about that feeling. When knowledge institutions use just exams as a measure of learning, it brings about extrinsic motivation. Students would study just to get a high grade so that they can compare themselves with their peers or because parents and authority figures demand high grades. The motivation for a student to learn is purely extrinsic. Therefore, if these reasons for studying were removed, a lot of individuals would not study or be interested in higher education.
There has to be shift in learning and knowledge seeking from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Students should want to study and learn about the world or whatever it is they are interested in. Exams do not successfully bring about intrinsic motivation among all their candidates. One alternative to exams is project based learning. This is where a student can come up with creative ideas based on the knowledge gathered in classrooms, textbooks, internet etc, and see how their proposals can be applied. Another alternative is periodically assigned assignments on the application of the subject learnt till then. This can be in the form of research papers or interviews for further insights. Things like this can bring about intrinsic motivation which can make a student willing to sit four to five hours in a classroom with full attention.
To conclude, exams as the only technique to evaluate performance are not enough. Exams shift the focus from learning to grades achieved and bring about extrinsic motivation for studying. There should be other alternatives to gain knowledge like projects and not just exams.
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