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Exam Formatting Sparks Debate at EduCom Meetings

Discussions about whether timed written exams at the end of the semester are an effective measure of students’ knowledge are ongoing amongst Arts and Divinity student representatives, culminating in the matter being raised at Education Committee (EduCom) and Student Staff Consultative Committee (SSCC) meetings. Representatives intend to collect student opinions on current exam formats through surveys in the coming weeks, the results of which they will present to faculty.

Pedro Silva, one of the second-year class representatives for the School of English, became interested in changing how exams are formatted last year after speaking to classmates who were unsatisfied with timed essays. Silva was further motivated to more actively advocate for changes in current Arts and Divinity exam formats when one of his tutors expressed their belief that timed written exams are not effective for analysing students’ abilities. While he has not yet collected statistics about how many students would like to transition away from timed written exams, he has spoken with several students who support his efforts.

Silva acknowledges that some students prefer the timed essay exam format. He said, “Some people say that they like exams. Some people say that they’re good at exams and prefer if we have them, and I get that. But liking exams is one thing, and thinking exams are actually an accurate assessment of your abilities is a completely different thing.”

Silva prefers the exam model employed last year for those taking the first-year modules in the School of International Relations. Students were given two prompts for two separate open-note essays which they completed and submitted online over a seven-day period. Silva believes that this method of assessment is better than a closed-book, timed essay at the end of the semester.

“It gave you enough time to research and make a coherent, solid argument for your essay. So I think that that was the perfect mix of an exam and coursework,” he said.

However, the School of International Relations has now shifted to an open-note two-hour exam online, which discourages Silva about what future negotiations with faculty about changing exam formats may yield.

The Saint requested statements from the Arts and Divinity heads of schools, but none were available for immediate comment.

Illustration: Charlie Macbeth

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