The Abusive Overuse of Exams

Exams are there to assess your progress. They are there to help make you learn. They are there to make the world a better, more sophisticated place. But they also make life difficult and annoying – like that bee that just can’t find the window.

Conflict of Interest: I am good at exams and have benefited greatly from my ability to do them. BUT – I don’t agree with the abusive overuse of exams in our education system.

Firstly, exams do not encourage a good understanding of material. The vast majority of exams only ask you to recall facts. Memorizing facts is – for the most part – a useless skill when you have Wikipedia a single ‘ctrl + t’ away. The focus on memorizing facts makes exam preparation boring and the actual exam even worse. Since exams are the only way to obtain your grade, and your grade is all your future employer cares about: you focus on the exam. In doing so, you reduce the entirety of your course to a two week burst of rote learning. It’s pathetic.

Secondly, exams lower the aim of teaching. Exams don’t just mess with your mind, they mess with your teacher’s. It is very tempting for a teacher to focus on getting you to pass your exam. This reduces their (otherwise engaging) job to an exercise of “do this five times – it’s in the exam”. The teach-to-an-exam method makes everything awful … for everyone involved.

Thirdly, exams give us an artificial focus. In the real world, you are never asked to solve an over simplified problem that you have seen five times before without internet access. But this is what we spend all our time doing – because of exams. What happens when us students have to face real world problems with no clear and flower lined path? Fail much? Exams don’t prepare us for doing life (apart from introducing us to drudgery) – and that’s not cool!

So let’s abolish exams shall we? Maybe not entirely? Reduce their frequency?

I don’t know – but it won’t be in the exam, so don’t worry about it!