Opinion | Changes made to assessment methods should be kept post-Covid

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By Lowri Lewis, Opinion Columnist

It felt like there was a collective sigh of relief amongst students at the University of Bristol when it became clear that, where possible, timed exams are being replaced by coursework this year.

Of course, this wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic forcing the University’s hand. But if this is the style of assessment that students prefer, shouldn’t these changes be here to stay?

During a year in which a new source of stress is always waiting around the corner, anything which can lessen the burden was obviously going to be welcome this year.

But when there is no longer a pandemic around, coursework will remain the better option. For stress levels, yes, but also in terms of accurately measuring our ‘understanding’ of a subject, which assessments are meant to be examining.

Those who thrive under pressure would probably argue that timed exams demonstrate our understanding better because stress improves performance. And that’s true - to an extent. But the stress which coursework causes, for example, provides us with the motivation to get it done by the deadline.

This is because that stress is of a manageable level. Timed exams can cause a level of adrenaline that’s so high, it actually negatively affects our cognitive abilities.

This is the perfect opportunity to get rid of timed exams

We’ve become so accustomed to this highly stressful type of exam, that some students have come to think of coursework as the ‘easier’ option.

It may feel easier because we’re not also being examined on our ability to weather hand cramps, heart palpitations or sleep deprivation from worrying about the exam the night before.

You might even say that it feels like it takes less effort because coursework is in fact more enjoyable. It’s easy to see why spending hours and hours researching and crafting a response to a topic that you’ve chosen would be more pleasurable than spending that same amount of time trying to cram facts into your long-term memory.

This year will serve as a test of whether we know what’s best for us

And yet, anecdotally, it seems like students tend to remember information they’ve learned from doing coursework much better than that from timed exams.

With the lines between workspace and bedroom becoming so blurred, maybe taking exams outside of this space would revitalise us more than anything else. Personally, I’ve never found an exam hall to be particularly inspiring.

Some things won’t be changing in a post Covid world, though. Even pre Covid, there seemed to be a growing trend of students choosing optional units based on how they were going to be examined rather than whether the subject matter actually looked interesting.

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It doesn’t look like this trend will be dying down any time soon. In fact, perhaps being able to see what a degree with fewer timed exams looks like will encourage even more students to choose their optional units in this way.

This year will serve as a test of whether we know what’s best for us - whether we really are better off doing coursework-heavy degrees where we can.

If we are, then this is the perfect opportunity to get rid of timed exams. The change already had to be made because of Covid - it’ll just be a case of keeping it. Keeping a change which will be better for our stress levels, and will better demonstrate the knowledge that the University wants to assess.

Featured Image: Epigram / Molly Pipe


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