Why are students wary of exams?
The word ‘exam’ does strike fear in many students causing anxiety and stress. For some, these feelings become more acute especially for the major annual exams causing to underperform and even fail their favourite subject! Exams test the learning process and knowledge acquirement, and for certain students are a welcome way of proving how well they are doing.
Do exams help with the learning process?
Examinations are presented mainly in two ways – objective papers comprising multiple choice questions, true or false choices or short answers; and subjective questions that need to be answered in essay form, case studies and factual references. Most students find the former easier to deal with, while the latter can be a challenge and where students can falter.
The question is how do exams help with the learning process, development of soft skills and gaining knowledge?
Self-reflection on one’s own abilities – To gauge the level of academic performance over a period of time in class and how well they are coping with coursework
Anxiety can be good – Feeling anxious can be a good thing when it comes to exams as it can encourage a student to study and prepares them for the many high-pressure situations that occur throughout student life
A bright future - Good grades lead to entrance to the first-choice course and school / college / university a student wants to attend, and can even offer scholarship opportunities
Spirit of positive competition – Exams make students want to do their best and encourages healthy competition particularly amongst those who work together and want to collectively succeed
Build personality and instil confidence – Knowledge isn’t just about attaining straight As. It also develops character and prepares students for their future academics and career
The improvement of soft skills (communication, etiquette, teamwork, interpersonal skills, problem solving, leadership) is a very important part of school life and often overlooked in favour of focusing on studying and good grades. Without soft skills, even students with top grades will struggle to cope with tertiary education and their future career. The emphasis on academics especially in this part of the world tends to lead to students entering the job market lacking in soft skills.
Can exams help improve soft skills?
For today’s student to be successful, it’s imperative that the two elements of academics and soft skills merge and offer a holistic and global outlook.
Knowledgeable person with a global outlook – Examinations do inspire students to work hard, be interested in learning new things and thinking out of the box
Good time management – Examinations prevent the students to waste their time freely without any good. It stresses them to use the leisure time with reading and adding more knowledge instead of playing video games unlimitedly which they can be carried away.
Communication skills – Preparing for exams or the presentation of course work fosters the spirit of collaboration and communication. This also encourages working together as a team for a better grade or outcome.
Problem solving – One of the most important soft skills to acquire is how to solve problems of varying degrees. One way is to encounter a problem during the learning process, and to then either seek help or find a solution through another path.
Norazah Md Idrus, an English language lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) IIUM opined that examinations can only grade intelligence and not soft skills. “However, with a deeper understanding of the meaning of examinations, intelligence and soft skills, an assessment can grade both elements depending on the course objectives and the type of assessment. As teaching needs to be eclectic, so do examinations. Again, the baseline is, what is the focus of the examination, and how this affects the outcome of the exam, not just for students but also the teachers.
On the flip side
There is a downside to exams besides the usual levels of stress. There are many reasons why exams can become a nightmare situation including not studying enough, mismanagement of time and being too distracted. This can in turn lead to a student having health problems, losing confidence, be tempted to cheat or take short cuts when preparing, and in the worst-case scenario, even contemplate suicide. Research has found that suicides by young people peak during exam periods and this figure is increasing as subjects get harder and competition for places at good schools and jobs becomes tougher.