Editorial: Want to learn to cram? Step right up and take an exam!
Exams are an assessment of retention, not skills and knowledge.

Exams are an unfair method of evaluating student success and knowledge. In many classrooms, exams and other standardized tests represent a significant and unjust portion of a student’s final grade. These inconsiderate testing methods determine the student’s acceptance into other courses, programs, and careers.

A test is only an accurate measure of comprehension if students retain the knowledge they are tested on. 

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus created a graph called the “Forgetting Curve.” This memory model displays how information gets lost with time. Within the first 24 hours, the brain experiences a steep decline followed by a slower, gradual fall in the following days. Students who fail to revise frequently, especially within 24 hours after their lecture, struggle to retain a large quantity of what they have learned.

The structure of academic settings braces students for negative academic outcomes. It orients students to focus on grade point averages instead of acquiring knowledge and enlightenment—what school is supposed to be about. Students study to pass exams rather than to demonstrate their learning. With student timetables packed with so many courses, the density of coursework, readings, and assignments—along with jobs, extracurriculars, and their personal life responsibilities—it becomes difficult to find time to simply relax and restore their energy. 

Even without the concern for time, test anxiety and stress may also hinder academic performance. Naturally, high stakes cause high stress. According to an article by Ipsos, 40 per cent of Canadian university students feel high levels of stress because of exams, with eight per cent citing excessively high stress. So, we might think that moving away from “traditional” test-taking methods, like your average Scantron final exam worth 40 per cent of your grade, might be useful, right? 

Well, not quite. Even with so many methods of assessment, academia almost encourages students to cram information. A survey by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania concluded 99 per cent of students admit to cramming their coursework, instead of learning and understanding the content out of interest.

As students, our bodies can work against us, and stress from exams leads to physical and psychological symptoms such as self-doubt, nausea, fear, stomach pains, and sweating. 

Aside from memory retention and test anxiety, we must consider that exams are not reflective of the real world. Our ability to perform a job well is not rooted in our ability to memorize the correct answers. Tests scores should not define us, nor should they affect us. 

Teaching should focus on learning. While it is understood that there must be a method of assessment to ensure students hold the knowledge necessary to succeed in other areas of life, exams are not accurate tools to measure intelligence.


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