Debate Returns: Tests vs. Term Papers
by Nina Taneja on Friday, February 12th, 2016
Exam week at Milton is a first semester landmark, considered by many students to be either the best week of the academic year or the worst. Having to come to school for just a few hours each day certainly excites day students, but the stress of tests worth 15-30% of a semester grade puts the whole community on edge. Could the structure of the actual exams given to students change exam week? In the week after exams this winter, the Milton Measure asked students and teachers alike whether they prefer sitdown exams, take-home exams, or projects.
Traditional two-hour sit-down exams with students packed into the ACC or rooms in Wigg and Straus are stereotypical of exam week. Without any resources, students are given the opportunity to showcase their learning on their own, and are tested on how much knowledge they’ve retained. Students appear to have mixed feelings regarding sit down exams. Amos Shapiro-Thompson (III) prefers sit down exams because the “environment is less distracting” than a take-home or project assessment. Others also reflect that it is easier to focus in a sit down exam and get the test over with, whereas projects may lead to procrastination. Isabel Greenberg (III) believes that “sit down exams test memorization instead of curiosity and ability.” Other students agree and state that their science, history and language exams seem to require hours of memorization instead of inquiry and critical thinking, traits that are integral to learning at Milton and are even broadcasted on Milton’s website.
Both Natalie Wamester (III) and Maya Thakore (III) say their biggest concern with sit-down exams is the stressful two-hour time restriction. Henry Westerman (II) has a different approach to time. He prefers “projects in some cases,” feeling that “they often more accurately correlate between time spent working or studying and final product.” He explains that a project clearly reflects how much time was put in, whereas a sit-down exam doesn’t necessarily showcase hours of studying a variety of material.
Many agree with Westerman; projects overall seem to be a popular approach with students. Kalaria Okali (III) reflects that projects “give students a chance to be more creative and better display their knowledge without the added pressure of a time constraint.” Projects as exams can range from coding strategic players in programming classes, to presentations or essays. But while projects can be more time-efficient for students, Ms. Pulit, an English teacher, exclaims, “The thought of reading 50 lonessays in the course of four or five days is stress-inducing for me!” She says that take home essays and projects generally take longer to grade, adding, “The nature of the mid-term assessment is highly influenced both by the class material and by the students in the class.” Sometimes, she believes, there is “merit” in a project or long paper as an exam, leading to a choice of exam structure for each class.
Besides the time necessary to grade a project or take home exam, exams not taken under direct supervision seem to have another possible drawback: academic integrity violations. Ms. Greenberg says, “Even the best students could be tempted to cheat,” while Okali says she doesn’t like take home exams because she feels some students do “cheat on them and then have an advantage and never got caught.” Ms. Pulit, however, trusts her students. She says, “Milton students are so much smarter than anything you’ll find on a SparkNotes page.”
According to different students and teachers, each type of exam structure has its own pros and cons; finding the right type of exam for each subject is not as simple as one may think.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7621