Exams are not the only indicator of learning

Ashka Dighe

I currently take two classes in which my final grade will be determined solely by my performance on the exams. This means that a total of six exams, which take fewer than fifteen hours, will determine almost half of my GPA this semester. 

When an overall grade is determined by performance on only a handful of exams, some students are faced with a stressful situation. If they are not strong test takers, they do not have an alternative opportunity to prove their knowledge of subject material, and their grades may suffer. At UT, teaching approaches and testing formats should appeal to the variety of student learning styles.

Adria Battaglia is a universal design for learning specialist at the Faculty Innovation Center. According to Battaglia, the FIC’s goal when working with professors is to focus on both learning outcomes and how professors can measure that learning achievement. Aside from the traditional scantron graded multiple-choice exams, there are many different ways to measure learning.

Battaglia said if professors give students various formats to present their knowledge, they give more students the opportunity to be successful. This variation would also minimize student stress and anxiety by allowing students to prove knowledge through multiple formats.

Math professor William Beckner taught a differential equations course where students’ grades were based entirely on their exam performance. According to Beckner, CNS does not provide resources for grading, and a professor must make choices about how to use the limited time of a TA. While there is truth in this argument, there are still productive ways to let students prove their knowledge in formats other than objective exam questions. 

For example, Clint Tuttle’s Foundations of Information Technology Management course has approximately 200 students. Despite the large class, he incorporates group activities through Canvas and projects through Cengage that can be submitted online and are graded by a software. Exams are only worth 50 percent of the final grade. 

Administering multiple choice exams may be the easiest way for professors to expose students to the adequate amount of subject material in large classes, but it is not the best strategy for diverse learning and retention of information. Research shows that promoting a growth mindset and incorporating collaborative activities — including collaborative exam taking — can enhance student learning and encourage development of real-life skills. If a student suffers from test anxiety or processes information differently, restricting the medium in which that student is able to express their knowledge stops them from achieving their full academic potential.

Essays, projects and collaborative exercises can require students to develop a deeper understanding of subject matter. By considering components such as homework, participation and projects in assigning a final grade, professors can encourage stronger work ethic and collaborative skills in their students. These are all essential learning tools in the professional world.

We are all unique individuals with different learning styles, different methods of thought processing and different strengths. It is not fair to require all students to adhere to the same format when it comes to assessment and measurement of learning. If professors were to assign final grades after judging students based on several components, grades would be a more accurate representation of students’ knowledge and better prepare them for the professional world.

Dighe is a Plan II and neuroscience sophomore from Houston.