Exams are meaningless, so why are we still doing them?

You’re effectively getting a First based on your performance in a pub quiz


Exams, eh? That thrilling period where everyone tries to cram the entire year’s worth of course content into their head in only a few weeks, then realises they really should have started earlier and cries a lot. It’s a hoot.

But exams are bullshit. Who is still propping up this weird institution, and why do they often count for over half of your degree?

I unsurprisingly don't have many images of exams, so this one has a poo on it

I unsurprisingly don’t have many images of exams, so this one has a poo on it

We come to university to learn (duh). There’s your course content, sure, but also meta skills like academic rigour, independent research and time management. Then you come to exams, and all that gets chucked out the window in favour of answering a series of rote questions written up by a bored academic who was only half paying attention as he dreamt about attending his next conference, or whatever it is that academics do. Half the time, they manage to cock up even that.

Even when printed properly, exams have no relevance to the real world. Your performance in them reflects only your ability to do other exams. Whether you go on to employment or academic research after your three years, I challenge you to present a situation where you ever have to solve a problem with the same constraints an exam imposes:

“Okay Johnson, if you could have the TPS reports on my desk in 40 minutes.”
“Can do.”
“But you’re not allowed to look up anything online or use any external resources.”
“Wait what?”
“You are allowed a calculator. Begin.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“No talking allowed, you’re fired.”

Why would you want to discourage people from looking things up to help them produce a better final product? Especially when that’s what they will always be expected to do in the future. You can’t even bring a dictionary in, just to make sure you’re spelling everything correctly.

Over the years, the way academic prowess is measured has shifted from being largely coursework-based to being almost exclusively exam-based, in both university and beforehand at school. For my History A-Level (shoutout to Mr Topham), we had a term-long coursework piece where we chose our topic, researched it ourselves, collated sources (primary and secondary) and then produced a high quality final essay. That was worth 40 per cent of the overall grade, because 60 per cent was reserved for a glorified pub quiz.

And that’s bollocks.