Senate of College Councils to debate giving online exam databases a test run

Rachel Osterloh

The Senate of College Councils is the official voice for students in academic affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. This year, Senate has made an active effort to solicit the voices of students in how their academic experience could be improved at UT-Austin. Many students voiced concerns about the anxiety connected to test-taking and the difficulties of learning how to study for examinations. In an attempt to remedy this student issue, Senate has proposed the creation of an online database for study resources on the PCL website. Our College Councils will be voting on this resolution on Thursday night.

The online database would collect resources given by professors, primarily old examinations and study materials, for students. It would be accessible for all students, staff and faculty with a UT EID. Any student could access any materials in the database. This system would be entirely opt-in for professors, and Senate would work with Faculty Council to advertise the resource for professors who wish to participate in the initiative. While some professors frequently create new examinations or have content material with more ideas to pull from, others do not have the material necessary to create variety. While we have heard both positive and negative thoughts from professors, I believe the creation of this database will do significantly more good than harm for students. Furthermore, this is a resource that students could use without any concerns about integrity issues, as professors will have personally contributed to the database.

The UT Tarlton Law Library currently has a system in which professors can submit old examinations for students to review. This model currently works and assists students in tackling material at the law school. While their system provides physical copies in the library, it has a very similar model to what Senate hopes to establish on a University-wide level. Law students benefit from testing themselves with old examinations in the hopes of increasing comprehension of the material.

One uniting aspect of all students, undergraduate and graduate, is test anxiety. Every student has experienced a moment of panic over midterms, an unsolvable concept or concerns about a test score. I’ve always been grateful in classes in which the professor provides study materials, such as a review or practice tests. I assert that learning how to take a test — whether it be multiple choice, free response or essay — is a skill in and of itself. By learning how to master this skill, a student is better equipped to display their knowledge of the material. By studying in a variety of ways, students have the ability to increase their understanding of the material.

One critique I’ve heard of this idea is that it possibly enforces the concept of studying for the test for the grade. In reality, multiple studies from academic journals validate the principle that practicing the material in the form of an examination or quiz is a superior way to comprehend the material. A 2011 study in the academic journal Science found that students who studied through testing themselves retained 50 percent more information a week later than students that studied through traditional methods. Moreover, the Sanger Learning Center at UT-Austin endorses self-testing as an effective study practice for comprehension.

Senate’s purpose in proposing this database is to help students better understand their course materials and take active steps toward reducing testing anxiety through providing additional content. As a graduating senior, I wish that a resource like this had been available during my college career. I’m excited to see if this initiative passes in our assembly Thursday night. I hope in the future that Senate will continue to take on projects that have the potential to positively change the student academic experience at UT-Austin.

Osterloh is a government and philosophy senior from Austin. Follow Osterloh on Twitter @ranneoster.