Examinations are a very poor way of measuring intellectual ability, particularly with regards to mature, academic research-based study.
They fail to acknowledge creativity, intelligence, breadth of knowledge and the merits of progressive study and instead reward the memorisation and regurgitation of specific pieces of factual information. They discriminate against students who suffer from mental health problems or learning difficulties such as anxiety or dyslexia, who may struggle to “perform” in unrealistically restricted and pressured exam conditions.
Jumping through hoops
Qualifications that are predominantly exam assessed are also inherently classist. Students who can afford private tutoring or attend fee paying schools, are tutored in the specific exam technique required to jump through the examiner’s all-too-prescribed “hoops” and bag the marks necessary to gain the highest grades. It’s also questionable how well depth of understanding or breadth of knowledge can actually be demonstrated in such a short and controlled space of time, compared to more progressive assessments, such as coursework and written assignments. The focus on exams in our contemporary education system has reached an almost obscene level in schools.
The damage of exams
The abolition of the SATs examinations is a precedent example of the damage that exam-assessed learning can cause in primary school children, where petrified teachers become obsessed with test outcomes to the detriment of the children’s education. However, these issues reoccur at every stage of the education system, where stressed teenagers are completely focused on GCSE and A-level grades instead of acquiring a holistic range of abilities such as time-management, self-confidence, people-skills, problem solving, team work and innovation in addition to their studies. Often when students leave the education system, they are poorly equipped to cope in the work place which affects their employability and future career.
At university there is still an unhealthy focus on exams, but they are, unfortunately, the most cost and time effective means of grading student’s ability on a wide scale. Nonetheless, coursework helps students to develop analytical abilities and critical thought that can’t be memorised or crammed. These skills begin the long, hard process that leads to the development of innovative academic research and ground-breaking intellectual discoveries. None of which are made “under exam conditions”. Often the students who achieved the top grades at school fall down when they progress into Higher Education because they have been trained to pass exams, not to think independently, nor to be self-motivated and hard-working.
Do the grades of academics really matter?
Equally, academics who produce the most interesting research may have achieved seemingly low grades during their poorly funded state school education and have since gained invaluable life and work experiences and further qualifications that result in a rich, broad level of understanding. It is not fair to judge anyone based entirely on their achieved qualifications, people can develop a whole range of skills outside the classroom that make them better suited to a particular job. School grades and even university degrees, should never be seen as a definitive value of an individual’s intellectual abilities and we need to move away from a system where education is simply a means of achieving a badge.
Academics with the best credentials, the highest grades and most prestigious publications aren’t necessarily the best teachers. If a lecturer is unable to communicate their knowledge to students, it makes no difference if they’re Einstein or Aristotle, regardless of whether they achieved 10 A*s at GCSE or a first from Cambridge – they still fail at their job.
Do you think lecturer’s grades should be made public? Let us know in the comment section below.
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