Exams are the worst way to test intelligence

As Eminem once said: ‘You only get one shot.’

Christmas has passed, Easter has rolled by, and now here we are again, face-to-face with the rearing head of exam season.

Sitting in level three of the University Library, watching student upon student frantically cram information into their pea-like brains, I realise what a horrendous invention exams really are. Of course, this isn’t a new opinion – ever since the concept was introduced to me in the form of SATs I’ve never completely agreed with this form of testing people’s intelligence.

They’re essentially testing your memory

Not got a good memory? Well, you’re screwed. If you can’t remember pages of information and what Romeo said when Juliet died then you’re not going to get very far. Some people are innately born with photographic memories so, arguably, have one-up on everyone else.

How is one supposed to remember all this?

How is one supposed to remember all this?

You have to work well under time pressure

This is a problem area for a lot of people – personally, when Sharon the invigilator shouts, “You have ten minutes remaining,” a shiver of fear snakes down my spine and my writing hand starts to spasm. “SHUT UP SHARON,” I inwardly scream, as I’m acutely aware of how much I still need to write. It’s an art if you can always finish your exams on time and don’t find yourself rushing your conclusion.

You sometimes lose marks for bad handwriting 

We can’t all have a perfect, Times New Roman-esque writing style. When I’m knee-deep in my essay and thoughts are flying at me left, right and centre, my writing resembles that mess when two necklaces get tangled up in your jewellery box. It’s positively indecipherable. And a marker is going to read that mess, and think, “If I can’t read what it says, then I’m going to pretend they didn’t write it.” Welcome to the unfair world of exams.

Your grade depends on who marks it

An actual marker once told me that their mood and their generosity decreases with the more essays they read. So, if you’re number 80 out of one hundred, the chances are Professor Nice Guy is going to be impatiently wanting his nightly cup of tea and a biscuit and ain’t gonna feel as nice any more. Similarly, if they’ve read bad essays before your work of genius, they expect every one to be just as bad and it would take an essay re-examining the whole of the Theory of Evolution to sway them.


A lot of exams are highly subjective

Essays, for a lot of Arts subjects, are essentially just opinion. Maths and Science students don’t know how lucky they are to write about subjects that have a definitive “yes” or “no” answer. If your marker is irked by your opinion (I mean, it’s really hard to find a completely non-biased marker) even if it’s backed up with relevant evidence, then your grade can take the fall.



You only get one chance (and maybe a resit)

There’s a lot of pressure knowing that if you mess up this one exam, after countless successful efforts, then you’re screwed. Again. People don’t take into account that the rest of your past exams have all been As, and this D was clearly a fluke. Nope – the D might as well stand for Define as that is what your grade does to you.

Despite these recognised flaws, they’re still the most significant way to measure intelligence

When your exam grades are returned, and you’ve been given a C while your friend has been given an A, the friend will try to console you by saying, “It’s just an exam – they’re a stupid way to measure intelligence anyway.” However, although recognised as stupid, there is still “grade snobbery” as people with lower grades tend to be slightly looked down upon, even if they are still intelligent.