Battle of the Grades. The story of my life!

Nowadays, grades are all that matter for students. Haven’t heard in your class, will this topic be on the test? or how many questions does the exam have? The assessment is what students really care. But is it students’ fault? or is it the education system’s fault? god?

Sorry for disappointing you but, grades and tests are going to be present for a while. This is because resources are limited in education and not everyone has the financial funds to afford his/her education. That’s the reality. You have to compete with someone else to get a spot. From my experience, I can say that this kind of assessment is very stressful and put so much pressure on students. Let me tell you the story of my life: Tests everywhere! Just look at the picture below!

In order to be admitted to the civil engineer program in my previous university (Colombia), I had to take a standardized test during a whole day. What a nightmare! Then, based on my score, I had to compete against hundreds of students that also applied to the same program! If you are lucky, you are one of the 60 students admitted to the program. If not, as my case, you have to train yourself for a couple of months, pay for the exam again, and re-take it. Why? As many students out there, this was my only chance to study. I definitely could not afford a private university.

Why did I say that you have to train for those tests? You have to be seated for more than 8 hours in a chair. You have to be able to read and understand everything at once because you do not have time to re-read the problem or the questions. You are competing against the time. At the end, a lot of students have to fill out the bubbles without even have Hread the questions because there is no time! Sometimes, quantity does not mean quality!

Then, my first exam in grad school. What experience! I did not finish it and I failed the exam! Welcome to the grad school! The test was too long and this was my first time taking an exam in only 1hr and 15 minutes. I was used to have 2hr for an exam. I struggled so much reading it in a language that is not my native language. I had to read the questions many times to understand what I had to do or answer.  I could not think what I was doing I just tried to do as much as I could. I studied and prepared very well, I understood all the concepts (I am the TA for that course now) but at the end, grades are what matters and I did not get a good grade. So,

Why was the test useless to assess what I learned?

It is true that “grades promote a fear of failure”. For my second exam, I felt so much pressure of doing well because I did not want to failure again!

As professors, we really have to think what is the best way to assess students learning performance in terms how ready they would be prepared for the demands of this century workplace. All the disciplines are so different in nature! Even more, each student is different and the way how they learn is very diverse. The job is not easy at all.


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7 Responses to Battle of the Grades. The story of my life!

  1. Yang liu says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Different than your background, as a student in art and design, I also experience several exams. Is it ridiculous? Using the score to judge the drawing skills and the good or poor in art history. There is not a right or wrong answer for artworks, even not good or bad. Individuals appreciate the artworks in different aspect and have the various understandings. So, the challenge for the educators is how to guide and push the students explores in art kingdom and shows the effort in an ordinary ways, which all other would easily catch and accept it.

  2. I definitely agree a lot with your post! Like you, when I did poorly on an exam, I was motivate to do better because I was scared of failure, not because I wanted to learn. I agree with Sneha in that classes should have some sort of project at the end in which students can apply the material they’ve learned. In the classes where we’ve had projects instead of exams, I’ve had a much better experience.

  3. poochy says:

    Hahaha your cartoon is so funny! And you are right. I am too much stressed as well , and my brain suddenly gets stiff if I take a test. So, I always got the lower score than my capacity in a standardized exam, and got the better results in writing reports and thesis without time constraints. I know I hate exam, but not sure how we can be fair in selecting students specifically for university entrance exam without the standardized tests.

  4. dinagadalla says:

    Thanks for the post. I think this resonates with many of us. Many factors come into play when writing an exam (in your case language). And so test grades are not in any way the determinant for whether the material was understood/learnt or not.

  5. Faith Skiles says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! I appreciate your bravery in stepping out and challenging yourself in a competitive discipline, in a language that is not native to you and for not giving up! I especially like your last picture. I do believe, and I think Im guilty of this too, that many students just want to do well on the test. They experience great anxiety surrounding the test and they want to go in knowing as much as they can about how it will be. Like your post and the picture, I’m not sure a whole lot of learning is going on. It actually is a big issue in the United States today in K-12 education – the idea that teachers now must teach to the SOL tests. Personally, I have always wished, as a teacher, that I did not have to assess students all the time; but students and parents, both, expect me to do so….so I do.

  6. Amy Hermundstad says:

    Thank you for your post! I think you bring up some really interesting and valuable points regarding the impact that testing can have on students. Given your experiences with high-stakes testing and what we read this week, how do you think that we can better assess or evaluate students? Do you have some ideas for how you might approach the idea of assessment or evaluation in a class that you teach?

  7. Sneha Upadhyaya says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Grades are by no means an accurate measure of a student’s overall performance. I think instead of an hour or couple hour long exams, the end assessment of each class should be made based on a final project or something similar where students have to apply the knowledge and concepts that they learned throughout the semester. This way students are no longer in pressure of trying to solve everything within that 1 or 2 hour time frame, can use all the resources that they need to work on the project and most importantly, students will have a better understanding of what they learned. After all, knowledge has no value until you learn to fit applications to it.

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