Column: Looking for logic in final exam grades

Ah yes, the final day of class is here. This wondrous day that used to be one huge holiday party back when we had spelling homework has turned into a juggernaut that clogs me like a Meximelt. For an entire semester, I have done the reading and gone to classes like a good student and, now, all that work comes down to these last couple of weeks, and more importantly, this last day of class. I know some other kids probably have it much worse than I do with about seven exams in one day, but I write for them too in saying, Stay strong, brother.

It bothers me that four months of work can come down to one exam or one paper. What if my writing stinks these last couple of weeks? What if I am a particularly poor test-taker? It seems to me that as a society, we triumph in our production of test-takers. I can bust my chops for however many days and still be intellectually thwarted by a poor day filling ovals. It appears the only thing being tested is the capacity of a human’s short-term memory. I want my knowledge to be tested, not some kind of genetic intelligence endowment. This final day of class seems to be a climax that can turn a student’s semester into a Greek tragedy or an American sentimental work.

The quality of one’s work, ideally, is what is tested. Why would there not be more opportunities to test that? Teachers, please, do not take offense. All I am trying to do is work through the rationality of minimal examinations over the course of the semester. It is plainly obvious to some of my readers and even to myself that I do not know much about higher education, but I do have observations.

I feel like the test-taking process has strayed from the intent at the heart of allowing me to show what I have learned and now focuses on the categorization of students merely because it has to be done. I am being churned out like a product, and GW is the brand name. I am either a good test-taker or a bad one, and this sentiment extends all the way down into preschools. Nowadays, three- and four-year-olds are having intelligence coaches hired by parents so their children will get into the right preschool and so on. These children have a childhood that consists of calculators and flashcards, and they probably get reprimanded for having fun outside of the classroom.

We engineer the kids to evaluate themselves externally, while internally they have no capacity to learn who they are. There is more to learn than words, numbers and deconstruction. Let these kids out so that they will have a better chance of knowing a sliver of the world that exists around them. Coach them in creating after they have deconstructed. Anyone can find a hole in Socrates or memorize the expansion ratios of alkaline metals, but can they extend that into something creative? I want multiple opportunities to create and expand, not just the one or two chances on which an entire grade balances. I understand that we as students need to be separated and judged. I just don’t think a paper and two exams constitute sufficient criteria.

So on this final day of class, whether you have an exam or a paper due, find time in the day to run around or play kickball for the children that want to be doing the same exact thing but are stuck in a flashcard session learning primary colors. And as the climax ends on this final day, smoke a cigarette outside Gelman Library and pray for a day when our humanity is worth more than the genetic code it is printed on. Let life rock on in the meantime.

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