Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rethinking Exam Week

By Anonymous

During this time of the year high school classes are looking extremely different. Instead of teachers teaching, they will be watching students write exams. Instead of students sitting at tables talking, they will be silent in long rows in a gymnasium. Collaboration will be called cheating as it may inflate a grade. Schools will be calculating passing grades, money for credits and unfortunately….. any teaching that does occur will have the focus of "getting through the exam" and deep real learning will be the last priority of some schools.

I would like to take a deeper look at final exams. Most classes, other than diplomas, put a weighting of 30% on their exam, and thus makes the exam meaningless for some. WHY? Let’s dig deeper, on the exams for classes that are not a Grade 12 course, to understand why….

If we look strictly at this percentage, this means that any student over a mark of 71% cannot fail the class and students under a mark of 28% cannot pass the class. Therefore only students in the range of 28%-71% should be writing the exams. Now that we have eliminated many students from the final, we should dig even further.

Most students, even in the 28%-71%, don’t need to write. As most exams are multiple choice or at least heavy with multiple choice, with 4 choices on each question, then a student, by strictly guessing, should score a 25%. The interval now becomes 28%-61%, as, only students in this range, are dependent on a certain mark on the final to determine whether or not they pass the course. I would hope that few students fall in this range, but most classes would have a few in this range. 

Now let’s look at the students who have a mark between 28%-61%. For the most part, these students are weak, having troubles with an important concept, and most likely have gaps in their learning. We now come to crossroads as a teacher, as two options present themselves. Do we take these students, who are obviously struggling with the course, and test them again or….do we teach them?

Now we should only be talking about very few students in each course, and the exam usually takes 3 hours to write. Imagine the learning which could occur with 1-1 help in a 3 hour block with a weak student? Does this same learning occur by giving them a scantron sheet and ask them to sit in a row?
I suggest that school take a look at their exam week and ask “Is this week for learning or determining who passes and fails?” If the answer is the latter, then I suggest you be upfront with your stakeholders and put a sign outside your school saying “For an entire month, two weeks during each semester, your child will not learn at this school”. If the answer is the former then the school should be re-evaluating exam week.


  1. Even more concerning than exam week is exam weekSSSS. Up to 3 weeks designated for high school exams at the end of a term...

  2. I find that students spend a lot of time putting stuff in their heads but do not get enough practice getting it out. I cannot fault the idea of teaching a select few that you focused down to. However exams should not only test knowledge but also provide the student a way to articulate. Multiple choice exams, perhaps, are not the best way.

    Students have know how to learn, for example:


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