Are exams really effective?


After taking end of year exams, students are slowly yearning for their well deserved summer break which is in just about a week. Many Grade 10 students await their first year of the IB and Grade 11’s are preparing for their final year of high school. With that being said, it is of great importance to take the next few days and weeks over summer break and recharge in order to get back to school with a fresh mind. For me and other Grade 11 students who are taking the IB diploma, it was the first time taking an “end of year exam” in the IB style. We have been preparing for these exams for weeks with the help of our teachers in class but also spent many hours and long weekends carefully revising the material. It was not the most exciting time, nonetheless it was possible to manage one’s stress levels with the help of a good study plan.

Now that we are done with our exams, it occurred to me if an exam really is the most effective way of testing a student’s ability in a particular subject. After all, it is said that the concept of examinations was established by Henry A. Fishel and dates back to the late 19th century. Exams are by far the most popular way of assessing knowledge. However, it is of no doubt that they also impose a lot of stress on students which could inadvertently impact one’s performance. When thinking about these tests, there are a few things that might cross your mind. For instance, the score that you get on an exam or test does not necessarily reflect a student’s ability in a subject. It might have been that a student had a bad day, or just did enough time to revise a concept that was maybe asked on the exam that day. Therefore, students should draw their attention too much to that number. 

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

— B.B. King

One of the disadvantages of traditional exams is said to be that preparing for exams does not give enough time to fully understand the material. In that case, it is crucial for students to build an effective study plan and set goals for themselves that they think are accessible to them. If one sticks to a study plan and organizes in advance what to study on which days, that will not only lead to decreased stress levels but the students will also feel more motivated to work on their small goals and eventually do better on the exam. This is also of great importance as for end of year exams, it is not enough to take a day and memorize all the information. In this type of examination, it is essential to understand and grasp the concept and so paying close attention in class would be a great start to do well. 

Even though exams do not reflect a students intellect and provide a more conform system, they are efficient when it comes to collectively testing students on what they have learned during the school year. All students are taking the same exam which makes it highly standardized and can also serve as a feedback for teachers and what they can do to help their students. The students themselves can then reflect on their performance, see what they have done well and learn from mistakes to deduce what they can improve upon. They also provide a way of challenging students and developing their learning methods. At last, everyone would like to do well on the exam and therefore students try their best to study the course material. Apart from that, they can figure out what study method works best for them and either revise collaboratively, make study sheets or teach the material to others.

Finally, there are many more ways of testing whether an individual has assimilated the course material, for example through learner portfolios which reflect a student’s work over the year. However, a standardized exam still provides the more efficient way of testing that information in a short time frame. Still, every student should keep in mind that an exam does not determine one’s worth or anything like that. Instead it should be seen as an opportunity to showcase one’s knowledge. Developing structured study habits, suited to one’s own needs and keeping a positive attitude by spending time with family and friends, decreasing the stress levels would positively impact a student’s learning and provides a good way to prepare for exams.