Time to revisit our examination system?

Our education is essentially summative. We are mainly assessed through a three-hour long written test at the end of the term or semester. Once completed, the syllabus of one summative will not be repeated in the next.
Sam Kebongo
Sam Kebongo

Our education is essentially summative. We are mainly assessed through a three-hour long written test at the end of the term or semester. Once completed, the syllabus of one summative will not be repeated in the next.

A student will have to concentrate on totally new topics for the next summative.Thus exams are the most terrifying time in a student’s life. There is heightened tension, even the school dispensary and health units report more visits. It does not have to be so.

The confusing and especially scary part of this assessment method is the reasoning that the results of one’s actions at one particular time, and a rather short while at that (a three hour exam), should be the determinant of one’s destiny in life.

Much as it is considered the infallible academic approach, the summative approach is anything but that. It is really easy to cram for exams - and many people do this. After sitting an exam everyone pretty much forgets everything crammed. Such exams while necessary are fundamentally flawed.

They only capture a student’s ability at a snapshot in time. It doesn’t take into account that student’s overall performance such as taking part in discussions, assignments and more.

There has to be a better way.

Continuous Assessment where students are examined continuously over most of the duration of their education and, the results taken into account during grading seems like a good alternative to a final examination system.

Some universities have adopted this. A good example is the University of Liverpool. The university assesses it Masters Degree courses completely by continuous assessment. There are no exams!

How can you properly assess a student without exams? Otherwise how do you know they really did the work? These are valid questions. Well, the students could print out all the work they have done during the masters degree (which is a staggering amount) that has been passed through and verified,  It’s pretty hard to doubt a student’s  stack of work..

The University of Liverpool Masters degrees require learners to hand in several items each week which are usually marked before they begin the next week. The learners have to consistently do well over the course of each week of the module in order to get a high grade.

This makes it far more challenging as the only way to do well is to keep a high standard of work throughout the entire masters degree programme: Something every employer could use.

Continuous assessment also looks at the student’s overall capabilities - each assignment has original content and is graded by an expert in the field. This means that you constantly demonstrate your level of knowledge and this is something that an exam simply cannot accomplish. Each discussion post reply is also read and graded. This provides a very rich and accurate view of the level of the student.

This assessment method leads to formatively developing the learner.  Formative education means broadening the learner’s world via broad-based cultural transfer that provides them with a compass. Formative education also means giving pupils and students ideas that will help give them direction or point out things of value.

Continuous assessment is not for the lazy and weak hearted, however. It is very hard to do well unless you put in consistently high quality work. If you’re the sort of person who does that, you will find that this will work very well for you. If instead you don’t do much all year and then cram for the exams then you will have a challenge ahead of you. So yes, as things stand, its introduction will face a lot of initial resistance.

Despite all these, continuous assessment is a much better way to judge a student’s level of knowledge, skill and expertise. That’s not to say the traditional examination should never be used. It is only that continuous assessment provides superior results.

In some cases, grades are even evaluated through a series of curricular and extra-curricular evaluations along with academics. The aim is to reduce the workload on students and to improve the overall skill and ability of the student by means of evaluation of other activities.

Grades are awarded to students based on work experience skills, dexterity, innovation, steadiness, teamwork, public speaking, behavior, etc. to evaluate and present an overall measure of the student’s ability. This helps the students who are not good in academics to show their talent in other fields such as arts, humanities, sports, music, athletics, etc.

Formative education is holistic and as such much more productive and sustainable. It is also not new, how do you reckon our culture survived and thrived in a bookless environment?

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