Saturday, April 12, 2008

I should be allowed to design final exams

So currently I'm done 1 of 5 of my second-to-last round of undergrad exams. woo.

This is, of course, a time when all the students I know, myself included, make a habit of complaining about every small detail of their classes, picking apart marking schemes, figuring out if-I-get-this-mark, I'll-finish-the-course-with-this, etc., etc., etc.

Somewhere in this process (or before it), we lose sense of what we're actually doing. I'm of the understanding that as much as it may seem like we're at university to get good marks so we can get into a good job, the actual philosophy behind higher education is (surprise!) learning.

If you've got a good professor, they will test you on your understanding and make sure you have actually learned the material. Those that genuinely get it and have understood the material should have no trouble, where those who haven't will suffer as a consequence. Unfortunately, truly good professors are few and far between.

From the professor's point of view, constructing an exam that genuinely tests that students understand is a very time-consuming endeavor when you can just pull a pile of multiple choice questions off some random database, stick them in a test, run off a bunch of copies, hand them out to the class, watch students struggle for two hours, then go home and pretend you're a good teacher. In fact, when tests are designed like this, some students can and do do well. Unfortunately, it's quite often the students who have no f*ing clue what they're doing that do well cause they've trained themselves to vomit up whatever random fact the professor asks for, where those that understand it lose out because they don't waste time studying irrelevant facts. Am I bitter? You bet.

So after 6 times thorough this cycle coming up 7, I've learned pretty well to gauge my instructor and anticipate what will be on my final. If the prof is a tool and will just ask random questions and mundane details that bear no relevance to the actual themes and objectives of the course, then those mundane details I will study. However each time I do this I feel like I sell a bit of my soul. Instead of learning the material in its entirety as I'm supposed to, I study for the test specifically, and then come out no better for it, having learned essentially nothing. Instead of pursuing the ideals of higher education and enlightenment, I am bowing to the economic machine that revolves around getting good grades.

As such, I am just as much of the problem as anyone else. Honestly, I am not willing to give up my career prospects and waste money that both myself and my parents have invested in this university to not get the best marks that I can. I see many other students in a similar situation (though there's many others that rank education somewhere below Guitar Hero on their list of priorities).

There is no incentive in place for students to actually learn material for the sake of learning unless they actually care that they do. We come to learn and in the end the only students that do learn are the ones that do it on their own time. This is a serious flaw in acadaemia, and it seems to be getting worse as education gets more and more commodified (is that a word?).

My solution: I get to decide what goes on my test. In fact, screw the paper sit-down-and-write thing altogether, and just let me have a meeting with my instructors and demonstrate my understanding. None of this stupid nitpicking over marks and weighting schemes and yadda yadda yadda. I prove that I'm a genius and know the material inside and out, and the professor gives me 100%. It's that simple. Is my arrogance showing?

If only I had control over the system. Things would be different, I say.

For now, I'll continue to jump through the hoops the instructors set up for me like the good little circus monkey student that I am.

But I won't like it one bit.

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