The Exam had Failed the Exam

Coronavirus, aka Covid-19, has caused a lot of changes in our everyday lives. There is almost no aspect of our life that wasn’t changed in one way or another. The academic word is not exceptional, and I want to focus on the examination process.

For hundreds of years the way universities and colleges assessed their students’ knowledge was the written frontal exam. The process is known to everyone — you arrive in a certain date to a classroom, in which you identify yourself and then handed a questionnaire. You sit in your place watched over by a guard and answer by yourself on the questions.

This method has its faults, no doubt about that. But it has some advantages too — first of all, it’s very hard to let other person take the exam instead of you. In addition, although cheating is not rare, it’s also not very easy to do. All in all, written exams are thought to be pretty reliable means for grading a student in the end of the course.

Enter Covid-19.

With the arrival of the disease, one big change was forced over the academia — in most places, they couldn’t do written frontal exams in which students actually present in one room. So every institute tried to find its own way, usually as an ad hoc solution, to examine its students.

I teach in several academic institutes, and even inside the same place there was more than one method. Here are some examples for examinations that was implemented due the previous semester –

- The students were given a regular exam which they did in their homes and uploaded the answers. No supervision or guarding was made.

- The students were given an exam that they had to answer on a dedicated application (such as the universities website). The exam was divided into several parts, each part had its time (i.e. one could neither go back to previous part after the time had ended nor to go to an advanced part before its time).

- The students were given an exam and were watched via one or two web cameras by a supervisor.

- The students answered their exams and had to “chat” with the professor to answers some oral questions regarding their answers.

And a lot of other variations.

But it turned out that all those solutions have a major flaw — they are easy to cheat on. All the exams that were taken without any supervision were asking to be cheated on — the students quickly discover they can talk with their friends (via email, whatsapp or phone) and share solutions. Even worse — some students gave others to answer the exam instead of them. Even on allegedly supervised exams there were just too many holes that couldn’t be covered. In the bottom line — as opposed to frontal exams, the online exams are flawed because they just too easy to be cheated on.

I’ve tried to figure that out, to find a way that allows me as an instructor to examine my students in a reliable way. But any solution I came up with was not feasible or not effective (or both). I couldn’t think of a realistic and reliable way to asses online a person’s knowledge.

And then I thought that maybe I’m trying in the wrong place. Maybe there’s just no solution in this pattern of one final exam. We are so fixed with that paradigm that it’s hard to think of another way that could possibly work, but there must be. My conclusion is that we cannot continue to pretend that our exams are reliable tools in the online world and we must change our way of thinking. In my opinion, the (long) era of one final exam as a mean to test student’s knowledge is over.

So what can we do? As Albert Einstein said — “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.

Next time I’ll write about my suggestion for examine and grade student’s knowledge. Stay tuned!

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Shay Tavor

Shay Tavor

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I’m an academic and freelancer instructor, teaching computer science and software engineering for more than 17 years now.