Column: Exams are so 2018

| Bas Leijser

In this biweekly column, Bas Leijser gives his unfiltered opinion on university life, with a bit of sarcasm and Dutch directness mixed in. In his free time, Bas likes to graduate for his master in Civil Engineering & Management.


You may have noticed that it is 2019. And with a new year, it is also time for a new year’s resolution. Make a fresh start. I believe the university should also have one, for which I have a proposition: finally get rid of that addiction to exams.

Let’s face it: exams are nonsensical. You have already proved that you have a functioning memory back in elementary school. Heck, when you successfully put the triangle block in the triangular shaped hole and the cylinder in the cylindrical one, you already showed an analytical aptitude that makes you qualified for most exams in the social sciences.

Here’s another cold truth: students are inherently lazy. Wait, let me rephrase that: smart students are inherently lazy.

After all, today’s world rewards you if you have ‘more than a degree’. And the lack of financial support in today’s society hampers students who only go for a degree.

So, it is better to work smart, not hard, and try to pass your courses in the most efficient way possible; while you simultaneously work and try and have a social life.

Now, since most exams test memorization, what do you do? Of course, you get high on your preferred drug (I opt for caffeine), forcibly shove the knowledge into your short-term memory at the last possible moment, ace the exam, and forget entirely what the subject was even about when you walk out of the sports centre.

Rinse and repeat for three years and you’ve got yourselves a bachelor’s degree. Heck, even the government agrees that there are major problems with exams.

Perhaps now you understand why I am advocating that we should get rid of them. Exams, that is, not the government (that would be deserving of another column).

You see, better alternatives do exist. One is called an oral exam. While some fear this exam to the same extent as going to the dentist – and the similarities here are plentiful -  I’d say that this is mostly caused by their complete misuse.  

We’ve all been there. You get asked one or two questions where you have to explain, say, the superposition principle, while your neighbour is asked whether a strawberry is larger or smaller than an apple (the answer is, of course, that it depends on the strawberry, e.g. the Japanese Amaou strawberry can grow up to 12cm in length).

Yet, if it is a decent oral exam, with multiple open questions, and where you’re allowed to bring some cheat sheets, it can be a suitable method to assess whether you’ve truly grasped the concept of something.

And why stop there? There are far more creative ways to test a student.

For example, I could have passed Mathematics C1 Cayley by beating my professor on a 8x8 matrix (also known as a chessboard). And I could have earned my credits for Modelling of Stochastic Processes through a dance-off. Why do we even still have exams?

Clearly, exams are so 2018. It’s time to bring out the chessboards and dance moves instead.  

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