On exams – the worst part of being a student?

The exam period

One of the best things about being a graduate, at least for me, Is the knowledge that I will not have to sit formal exams again. I will have assessments, but there will never be a time when I have to sit in a room in silence with only a pen and a strong sense of dread.

I am one of those people who hated exams, not to the extreme, but I always preferred coursework and essays as I could work on them over time. The main negative with exams is that the questions that will come up are somewhat random. You know the kind of question that will come up most of the time, and you will have practised similar questions, but inevitably you cannot learn all that is expected if you’re a normal person. What makes it worse is the fact that you know you will be judged on the results of this for the rest of your life; if you need certain grades to move up the ladder to your next goal I can’t imagine how nervous you would be. One of my bosses a few years ago told me he still has nightmares about his exams that he took well over 30 years ago!

I am not sure how many exams I have sat in my life, but I imagine it is around 100. Here is my biggest issue with exams. It is a bulimic system; you cram as much information as you can in preparation for the exam and then spew it all over the paper. The information, from my experience, stays on the page, I do not have even fifty percent of the knowledge I gained in my binging period, and it has continued to fade over time. If I were to sit the same exams as I did last year, I wonder how I would do. Better? Worse? The same? Without going through the same binge period, it would undoubtedly be worse. If you do not take the knowledge with you what is the point. Just do a general IQ test and be done with it.

Are there any benefits to exams? I have heard someone who works in an educational institute say that one of the only reasons we keep exams is that they are very hard to cheat in. It is true that it is quite easy to cheat with an essay, as there are many websites that will write your essay for a price. On the first week of my undergraduate degree, I was given a voucher for £10 off of a website called IvoryResearch. Presumably, the university did not know about the company, and has since banned them as I didn’t see them again, but who knows? I have never known anyone who has used one of these services, but there are many of them, so I guess they are doing a good trade. You cannot get this kind of service for exams. Although I did see on TV once that some guy was taking peoples driving tests for them for a price, so I guess it could be done.

So, should we get rid of exams? If we care about students mental health, the answer may be yes. However, I cannot think of what we would replace them with. Besides they are basically a rite of passage at this point, a ceremonial process that results in something that feels like it is straight from the middle ages, in the UK anyway, It is very pompous, and I didn’t enjoy it. I cannot see a world where exams no longer exist, but I hope that they become less relevant.

Do you like exams? What should we do about it?

Published by Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

21 thoughts on “On exams – the worst part of being a student?

  1. I write software. I know deeply about 30-50% of what I need to know to get code written (That’s 30-50% of 10 different languages). Were I to test on any one of them I’d fail. However, by studying — and then forgetting — what I’ve done is exposed my brain to what is possible. “I don’t know how do do that, but I remember seeing something like it — so I’m pretty sure it CAN be done.”
    That nuance of knowledge, knowing that you *could* learn it if you had to, and knowing that the technique or concept was available, is what exposure to vast knowledge — during exams — might be useful for.
    Knowing something can be done, is half the battle.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Exams were the bane of my life. But realised in later life there is a technique. I enjoyed education a lot more in my 30’s. Do your best and try not to panic. You know more than you think. Relax, and it all comes flooding back. It helps to find the topic your studying, written in a style you enjoy. Best of luck and never give up and never stop learning.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I have to admit that Exams are my least favorite part of school. I work hard and as long as the teacher is fair and tests the same way they lecture, I will usually do ok. I had to learn how to learn when I went back to school because admittedly I did not have this knowledge the first time around. But now that I know the basic concepts of learning, i apply it to almost everything because it is very important to me to retain the information I glean. I have set extremely high standards for myself and I have made A’s in all of my classes so far. So we shall see if I can keep up the hard work for another year! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  4. For me exams were a time filled with anxiety. And a lot would depend on the education system followed in that region as well, for example, I’m afraid here, in India, it’s become a way of getting the highest numbers, and cramming day in and day out for the same. It did help me learn things I was too lazy to go over, but I’m not really sure how much it helps retain.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, from what I understand, either the education system has to change or the person could themselves do something about it by going an extra mile, putting in efforts of their own to become an expert in their chosen field of study. But then again, this is just hypothesis…


  5. The trouble with exams is that, they tend to be a do-or-die situation. If you are lucky, the questions that comes up during the exams are the ones that you have mugged or have a liking for. Otherwise, good luck. Still, it is, as you said, a rite of passage that we, university or otherwise, have to go through. Eradicate exams totally? All things considered, not just yet anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Full marks on the excellent use of a meme there!
    I confess that I was never and still am not a fan of exams, although I did used to appreciate the very different way they made me think. Like, with coursework I always had this awful feeling that if I could just read every book out there, and search every website then I’d be able to put something decent together, which was naturally setting myself up for failure. Exams just sat me down in a room and demanded to know what I could do with the stuff I remembered right then and there, in the heat of the moment, and I did kind of appreciate that about them. I wasn’t perfect in the heat of the moment, but no one is anyway,and there was a weird fatalistic sense of ‘Well, this sucks, but in three hours it’ll be over so just keep hanging on in there’
    Still glad I don’t have them anymore though!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesting piece! And I absolutely agree with the exam thing. On top of the fact that the brain ‘thinks’ it is learning the information just to get through the exam (even though we try to tell it to hold onto the knowledge) there is also the fact that all brains seem to learn differently. So even if exams are good for one person, they won’t necessarily be good for another, hey! What a predicament. ☺️

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Exams prepare you for the working world, plain and simple. At work you will be asked to cram a lot of information in a short period of time and then regurgitate it, you will be put in highly pressurised and time sensitive situations, you will be expected to learn quickly and your knowledge will be, repeatedly, put to the test. You may need to study for professional qualifications to rise in your chosen profession. School and University (if they’re good) should prepare you for your working life, the good and the bad; if you went through the education system without a single exam, your entry into the world of work would be a horrible shock ;O) Do your best and just accept that you will pass the exam or fail it but no amount of worrying about it will change that outcome – good luck x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like exams (at least, in everything but math). I understand how they can be stressful (especially with subjects or material you’re not secure in). But here’s why I like them: They’re usually worth far more points than the usual coursework. Sometimes I can knock out, like, a quarter of the points I need in a particular class for the entire semester with one 3 hour test.

    I have so much more stress with essays and presentations and projects (don’t even mention group projects). They take longer, require more research and effort, are rarely satisfying, it’s easier to procrastinate, they’re often highly subjective, etc.

    But with exams as long as you consistently pay attention and take notes in class, read and take notes on the chapters, and do some practice questions – then pray, breathe, and trust yourself – you’ll probably do just fine.

    And the stress isn’t as debilitating because you either do it or you don’t – there’s no time for procrastination and second guessing and rewriting a dozen times the way there is in essays. So you just do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a child, I hated exams as much as an average student, but when I was in college, I actually looked forward to my exams. Since the subjects I chose in college were the ones I had great interest in, I loved giving exams and wrote exam papers almost religiously.
    I guess it really depends on the student, the subject and the teacher\examiner. I recall that my teachers (who were the ones checking my exam papers, too) were very open to the conclusions I drew from techniques or topics in my syllabi, even if they were much different from what they had taught me in class.
    If an exam is treated as the canvas of the student and something to judge his/her/xer perception and not intelligence by, it is not just not hated but even becomes interesting. But when it’s all about grades, it’s the worst thing in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I just sat my mock exams for year 10, and I have my GCSE’s next year. Even from the mocks I can say I was super stressed and it was so hard for me to focus on little things. I revised so hard and worked so hard, but I still only got a grade 3 and 4 in my sciences and maths. I dreaded the moment I sat down in that exam hall and saw that the question was on a minor topic I hadn’t bothered going over and that we only had 1 lesson of. Eventhough I know I have to sit these exams, I can’t help but think there must be another way to test students’ knowledge without putting them through so much stress and disappointment.


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