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Exams are officially over, and celebrations have begun. Exams include many of the aspects we want from assessment.
Likewise, the process of searching through ones memory and retrieving the relevant information strengthens that memory pathway for future uses.
This means that when newly qualified teachers, doctors, lawyers, or accountants come to retrieve information they need, it is – as a consequence of having been practised previously – now easier to access.
Rather than passively reading and remembering by rote, we want our students to study by forming appropriate questions, searching memory for relevant responses, and knitting this information together into an appropriate answer.
We think this third benefit of exams is the most exciting.
Are we being defeatist in suggesting exams as a solution to plagiarism? We would like our schools and universities to be about discovery and exploration: not compliance.
To date, however, essay mills have consistently remained one step ahead of academia.
It also enables teachers to be confident in the accuracy of their judgements about each student. Assuming a subject has a number of goals (knowledge to learn, skills to acquire), each task should be appropriate to the specific goal or goals it is assessing.
This means that a task assessing base knowledge will look different to one assessing creativity. In most disciplines, there are specific bodies of knowledge that students are expected to learn.
While creative tasks may be one alternative solution, ghostwriter Dave Tomar writes in his book, The Shadow Scholar, that all sorts of tasks are ghost-written. Tasks that cannot be purchased or copy-and-pasted must be integrated into the mix.
Finally, and on a more positive note, there is evidence that both studying for and sitting exams deepens learning. When one exercises, the muscles in use grow stronger.