We have officially entered the month of November here at Mount Allison, meaning that the general student population will be less concerned with midterms in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, attention will now be focused on final projects and exams looming on the horizon.
It is in this period of ominous dread that complaints about the university’s methods of student evaluation will start to pile up even faster than the assignments themselves. Some people are bad at writing exams. Some people are bad at writing papers. Some people are bad at giving presentations.
All of these are entirely valid observations that have plenty of anecdotal and statistical evidence backing them up. Simply put, different people have different academic strengths and weaknesses. As a personal example, I generally do better on essays than I do on exams.
Bearing this in mind, the current methods of evaluation are not ideal. The perfect approach would be individually-designed evaluation plans that cater to each student’s strengths and enable them to convey their knowledge of a subject most effectively, thereby earning them the best grade they can possibly achieve.
The only real reason this model has not been implemented is its impracticality. Trying to organize individual evaluation schemes for each of the 2,500 students here at Mt. A would be next to impossible, to say nothing of attempting to do so on a larger scale.
But is this so-called perfect approach really all that perfect? Its perfection depends on how you look at the purpose of student evaluation, and even university as a whole.
As pleasant as the concept might seem, it would be an oversimplification to say that students attend university with the noble goal of pure learning. For many—if not all—students, a university education serves as preparation for a future career. Thus, the courses that we take here, along with the exams and essays they entail, are all serving a similar function: preparing us for the requirements of such a career.
In English courses, for example, the focus on writing essays, analyzing literature, and attaining mastery of spelling, grammar, and syntax prepare students for a field where these skills will be taken as a given. Science courses train students to perform calculations and answer questions quickly and accurately while coming to understand the key ideas of their area of study.
In a more universal sense, the high-pressure environments of exams and impending due dates of assignments prepare students for a work place where they will not have unlimited time to complete their objectives. Introducing the critical and unforgiving concept of deadlines at a university level means it will not be a foreign concept on the job.
All of our university education—including our evaluations—serves a definite purpose. Namely, that by the time a student graduates and starts their career in a given field, their occupational expectations will have become almost second nature.
A common phrase for critics of current student evaluation frameworks argues that one cannot effectively judge a fish’s aptitude by its ability to climb a tree. However, this analogy falls apart if the fish in question is seeking to become a professional tree-climber. It may seem matter-of-fact, but evaluation methods are more or less tailor-made to fit their academic and occupational fields. If somebody is not suited for the former, they likely are not suited for the latter.
So while it may seem ideal to let each student have their own individual process of evaluation, it is important to note that the workplace does not follow such a format. Our current methods of evaluation are designed not to provide instantaneous success, but rather continuing success that lasts beyond graduation and into students’ careers.
Given the choice between the two evaluation methods, I know which option I would pick.