|Point: Are exams useful?|
|Written by Gabrielle Tieman|
|Thursday, 08 December 2011|
Administering a breakdown
I live with two nursing students. The other day, they came home looking angrier than I have ever seen them in the three years we have shared a roof. Almost their entire class – including the two of them – had failed their midterm by only one or two per cent. In their fourth year program, where they work as nurses in the biggest hospitals in Ottawa, their midterm had consisted of questions such as this one:
In 1842, when chicken-pox would break out, how would you treat the ailments and diagnose the problem?
They were required to have memorized a single page out of a 1000 page textbook which had zero relevance to anything they were doing in their everyday work. How was that ever going to make them better nurses?
And we’ve all been there. Hours spent at a computer staring into the glare of notes we copied three months ago about topics we haven’t thought about in even longer than that. You can’t sleep. If you do, a gremlin will crawl into your brain and steal any precious notes that you have stored up in your mental filing cabinets.
Coffee is now your family. And after all of this physical and mental stress, you write a test that takes maybe an hour and leaves you feeling even more deflated than you did walking in.
How does this help anyone?
In the past four years I have witnessed four people break down into tears during an exam, one pass out and another break into a fit so bad that paramedics had to be called. We later found out that she had been taking ADD medication in order to keep herself awake for days in order to cram.
Do exams really prove that we have learned a topic through and through? I really doubt it. You spend four months jotting notes on scrap pieces of paper, writing assignments, running from class to class and then you are expected to compile every single remote and unknown bit of information and place it on a paper. And that question? The answer might be something your professor muttered under his breathe during a guest lecture on that Thursday in October when you came in with a head cold.
Why didn’t you think of studying that? Because it has zero relevance to what we have learned.
In college, we create. We write the newspapers, run the radio station, interview, draw, dance, construct and everything in-between. But we are expected to show our knowledge with a handful of questions scattered across a paper that basically scream ‘you have learned nothing’ when you do not know whether the answer is A or C on the 80th multiple choice question.
And this is wrong.