Are offline exams better? No.

This is a continuation of a series. The first post, this Monday, asked how we might transition from online to offline education when (if?) the pandemic ends. The second post was about me trying to figure out in which ways offline classes are better. This post is about me trying to figure out ways in which offline examinations are better.

Offline examinations, in the context of this post, are defined as examinations in which students sit in a classroom for three hours, and write detailed answers using pen and paper, without having access to their textbooks or to internet enabled devices.

They aren’t better.

That’s it.

I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about this. Note that this post is about higher education, not about school level exams. But that being said, the idea that an offline examination replicates real life conditions is patently ridiculous.

When was the last time, in the course of your normal workday, that you sat in a room in which you couldn’t access the help of your colleagues or the internet, with only pen and paper, and did work? And even if you were to say to me that such a thing has happened, did that work involve regurgitating what you already know? Or was that work about generating new ideas without being distracted by the internet?

Offline examinations are not about generating new ideas. They aren’t about testing how well you would do in a realistic work setting. I honestly do not know what they are about, and I cannot for the life of me understand why they existed up until covid-19 came knocking.

Offline examinations need to go, and I would love to learn why I am wrong about this. Please help me understand.

3 thoughts on “Are offline exams better? No.

  1. Don’t u think professors will be forced to think if exams are open book. They will have to creatively think about setting the paper. Hahaha…

  2. Hello Professor, I entirely agree with this.

    My understanding is, such exams are not entirely rubbish but they are stubbornly uni-dimensional. For a setting where pupils need to be tested on what they already know i.e. how much of a text they have understood and memorised, this traditional testing system is useful. Eg. Studies of law, medicine, history to name a few all test how much a student has been able to understand & retain the core concepts. This is also the case for young students such as primary schools.

    But that is mostly what the limits of the such exams are. They are useful for understanding one’s retention & expression of foundational concepts of any field of study. However, as one progresses further up the ladder and starts to focus on application-based education or generating new ideas, these traditional methods of examination fail to fulfil the purpose.

    Consequently, my personal opinion is that we do not need to entirely replace the traditional system but (given their uni-dimensionality) simply augment it with additional & more practical systems of testing.

    Would be happy to hear your views on this 🙂

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