I HATE exams!

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I HATE exams! I probably despise them even more than my students. They are probably the worst kind of assessment going and yet we rely on them so much. There is no situation in the employment world where you have to work individually and secretively, you’d be fired pretty quickly if you did! In the world of work you have to collaborate and be innovative, using key skills and knowledge to solve unique problems – how could we re-invent what is going on in the classroom to reflect this?

When it comes to revision time I have a flock of students around my desk asking for past papers. They know there is a chance that what2013-11-18 08.26.09 has been covered in the past might well come up again, which of course it does. We run Cambridge international examinations here at my school and of all the exam boards I have worked with they do seem to push the key skills element of examinations and test if the student can apply the knowledge they have learnt to a different scenario but is this still enough? People have bad days, (I should know) and is it fair to test someone for one hour on about 200 hours’ worth of material? I don’t know if it but I can’t think of an alternative. I wish there was some kind of practical examination where the students get dropped in a room with some basic supplies and they have to use their physics knowledge to build a Rube Goldberg machine to get out! I guess the closest I’d ever seen to this is the physics game www.fantasticcontraption.com – which I strongly recommend. Can you imagine getting an IGCSE for your ability to play physics computer games, that’s the kind of syllabus I want!


3 thoughts on “I HATE exams!

    Edward Lewis said:
    November 19, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Well think logically about the problem. (Something you helped teach me :-p). What is the point in exams? It’s not about educating people, (I think my dad likes the expression you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it).

    In terms of education I am really excited by the potential power of MOOC’s and projects like http://www.flooved.com/home (where they are trying to produce open source text books), not to replace teaching per se, but at least where pupils are sufficiently motivated to flip the classroom ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip_teaching )

    For me the point of exams is proof of a certain level of competence in knowing and understanding a subject.
    So in this case we want to assess individuals as say employers (read universities if more applicable) rather than the strength of groups.
    The issue I find with coursework is the possibility of outside influences, (teachers, parents, older siblings etc) reducing it to the problem of not assessing the individual but how good their mates are.

    So if we have an exam of some sort what form should it take?
    Now here I think we have some scope for possible improvement. From my limited experience of teaching first year maths university students is that A-Levels put far too much effort on method learning. The style I get this sort of question so I do this then that then get the answer, without any understanding whatsoever. So I would argue that written exam questions are good at testing knowledge. This is a useful skill and should to some degree be tested.

    Understanding however I think is much more difficult to assess using written exams. My favourite ideal would be some form of oral exam. The thinking I have is that you don’t really know you understand something until you are able to teach someone else.

      cgozzard responded:
      November 20, 2013 at 5:41 am

      Edward – I love the idea of an Oral exam! You could record it as evidence and submit it to Cambridge. Or how about this – they have to record a YouTube video explaining the concept. I think I am going to try that with my students. It could really push them. For revision I could tell them they are each going to demonstrate a topic on the AS level Syllabus and record it. In teaching others they would have to fully understand it.

    cgozzard responded:
    November 20, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Just read the Flip Teaching article on Wiki.. Definitely something I will try next term.

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