Are University Final Exams Obsolete?

Is it time to say goodbye to university final exams? Well, it depends on who you ask. For the student studying medicine, exams may be crucial in helping them retain important concepts for the practice – they can’t exactly flip […]

Is it time to say goodbye to university final exams? Well, it depends on who you ask. For the student studying medicine, exams may be crucial in helping them retain important concepts for the practice – they can’t exactly flip open their old fourth-year textbook to find a concept when they are in the middle of open heart surgery.

But for the arts and communications students, sitting in a poorly-heated exam hall in the dead of winter with 500 other students, forced to cram 13 weeks of learning into two or three hours can seem counter-productive in 2019.

Girl Reads GIF final exams
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According to academic Shirley Alexander, Deputy Vice-chancellor of UTS, final exams are inauthentic, as we would never be sitting a closed-book exam in our working life – instead, we turn to the internet which is at our fingertips to fill in our knowledge gaps. She suggests alternatives to exams, such as practical experience for students in the area they are studying from as early as the first year. This would involve architecture students working with real firms and clients, journalism students publishing stories they have reported, and law students volunteering in non-profits.

As a third-year communications student majoring in marketing, I am familiar with both final exams and major projects as a means of assessment, and as a serial procrastinator, both can turn into a disaster the night before.

Many long nights have been spent involving tears, stress, and multiple cups of mi goreng instant noodles, when I realise that yet again, no matter how much I promised myself at the start of each semester that I would change my ways, I haven’t managed my time properly and probably never will.

Procrastinating Mtv GIF final exams
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So in saying that, I may not be the expert on the exam debate. So, I decided to reach out on Instagram and Twitter to get the opinions of fellow students:

Cree, a communications student, understands that while exams are necessary for some fields, she doesn’t believe they apply to her degree:

“Broadly speaking, final exams really only test memory retention and recall. Major assignments, on the other hand, can test our comprehension of concepts and how to apply them. I would rather complete a major assessment that forces me to apply concepts and practices to a hypothetical scenario, versus an exam which I’m more concerned with getting definitions correct”.

Caitlin, a commerce student, has a different opinion on exams:

“Final exams are tough, but they’re reality. I hate sitting finals but if it wasn’t for the constant memorising, I wouldn’t know half of the stuff I do now. I’m not going to sit back and be like ‘exams don’t teach me things’, because they do. They teach me more than memorising, they teach me resilience.”

I can agree with both perspectives here, but what happens when a regular old two or three-hour exam turns into an eight-hour one? This was the case for a third-year marketing subject at a NSW university, where students had a take-home online exam which lasted eight hours, with no options to pause. This left some students distressed as they didn’t have time to eat, take a rest break or even go to the bathroom, and many were unable to finish within the time limit.

Math Studying GIF final exams
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It drew mixed opinions from students and the public alike – comments on the Daily Mail article about the exam were divided between fellow students expressing sympathy, and boomers telling the students to ‘stop being sooks’. However Caitlin believes that long exams are not a bad idea, and “could be great, as marketers have to meet deadlines”, given that the exam was supposed to model a real-life work day in a marketing firm.

But in an eight hour day at work, you will at least be given a lunch break and a chance to go to the bathroom, so the exam could have been better designed if the university truly wanted to mimic a real-life situation

There’s also the fact that if you don’t meet your deadline at work, you don’t have to pay to attempt it again. With the HEC-HELP threshold slashed again this financial year, the last thing students want to do is add another $1000+ onto that debt by having to re-take an entire subject for a failed exam.

If given the option, I would undoubtedly choose a final assignment over an exam, for similar reasons that Cree expressed earlier, but also because of the valuable skills it has taught me.

Prior to university, I had been introverted, shy, and couldn’t think of anything worse than doing a speech in front of a class. Three years of major group projects and individual presentations developed my confidence and turned me into someone who is actually keen to do a presentation, participate in tutorial discussions and speak up at work. It’s a personal achievement that cannot be measured academically and certainly would not have happened if exams were the only method of assessment for my university degree.

Motivational High School GIF final exams
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So, where do you stand in the debate of keeping or scrapping exams? Or are you just happy that it’s all over for another semester? Let us know!




Featured image via Unsplash