The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

96° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Tests are useless stressors in student’s lives

Many students are still trying to recover from last week, which provided them with more tests than they could have ever asked for. And with the onset of finals week this Friday, there’s no time to rest.

College students—both at UA and across the nation—are being faced with too many tests during the span of their college education. For classes that run the typical 16-week semester, students can expect three to five major exams, including midterms and finals. This means a student taking five classes could reasonably anticipate over 15 exams in just one semester. Students face almost as many exams as there are weeks in the semester.

Maybe 15-plus exams wouldn’t be so scary if students could just walk in on test day and fill out the Scantron to get an A. But it’s rarely that easy.

In order to properly prepare, most exams require additional studying on top of classwork and homework. This preparation is hard to quantify, since everyone approaches studying differently and each class requires a unique strategy. No matter how it gets sliced, studying for a test can take up a significant amount of time from a student’s busy schedule—and that studying is expected for every single test students take.

And if that isn’t scary enough, just factor in the impact testing has final grades. Exams compose the largest portion of a student’s grade, with homework and projects in a not-so-close second. 

For example, calculus classes in the Math Department at the UA give four midterm exams and a final exam that account for roughly 85 percent of the student’s grade. Homework makes up the remaining 15 percent. Students had roughly 40 homework assignments throughout the semester. And for all the time and energy spent on completing homework, they only get 100 points on a 700-point scale?

Examinations are such a massive component of a course because educators view them as the ideal way to assess a student’s learning, but there are serious problems with this train of thought.

Test material is meant to be difficult, but sometimes it can catch a student off guard and leave them unsure of what to do to come up with the answer. It can be incredibly difficult to study for a test when you don’t know what it’s going to be like, what kinds of questions are going to be asked and what sort of problems need to be solved. Sometimes even a deep knowledge of the material isn’t enough to achieve that high grade, which means a test may not accurately reflect what a student truly knows.

Additionally, many tests are “exercises in regurgitation,” according to Howard Gardner, esteemed professor of cognition and education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. An exam that is framed in this way does nothing to test what a student truly knows and understands; it tests whether a student can memorize information and put it on paper. That is not education.

Homework and classwork could be better indicators for some students to show what they know. Given a longer time frame to complete work, as well as more resources from which they can obtain help to master the material, students can just as accurately demonstrate how well they understand material. Homework can be an even better assessment of knowledge, especially for students who inherently do not test well.

After all, students learn differently and have unique needs. A stressful exam could do more to hinder some students than to help them grow intellectually. 

“We spend too much time testing people and not enough time helping them,” Gardner told BU Today.

If we expend so much energy and effort into acing a test and we don’t actually focus on understanding the material, it calls into question whether the education we receive truly teaches us anything useful. I worry students are only building habits of cramming for tests and providing less attention to homework that doesn’t determine their final grades nearly as much as it should.

More weight should be given to assignments like homework, classwork, projects and participation. These things are perfectly valid representations of a student’s knowledge and understanding, and they shouldn’t be overshadowed by a single, unpredictable test. 

Students would be more successful and learn the content more solidly if the balance between homework and exams was a little more even. 

Follow Rhiannon Bauer on Twitter.

More to Discover
Activate Search