“Students, this is the end of the exam. Please close your test papers and put your pens down—I repeat, no more writing, please.”
Disgruntled by your incomplete exam, you slam my pen on the table and close your eyes, trying to calm yourself from the horrifying fiasco. But instead, your mind is drawn back to the empty lines in your exam, not yet filled due to the time constraints.
Why are time limits imposed on examinations that are meant to diagnose a student’s understanding of a particular subject? Why should the speed of our handwriting take part in such a large role of determining our intellectual ability? By setting a time limit to an exam, we may be testing how quickly students are able to complete it, rather than how well they actually know it. This fails to accomplish the real purpose of tests.
For example, the speed of your writing is often a crucial factor in completing tests with time limits. Furthermore, seeing as the purpose of a test is to assess the student’s understanding of a topic, when teachers see an empty space on a students test, how should they react to it? Should they assume that the student “did not fully grasp the concepts of this topic”? Or could it be that the student needed two more minutes to write down the correct answer? It isn’t completely fair to equate an answer left blank to poor understanding of a particular topic.
Suppose Van Gogh only had an hour to draw his sunflowers, or that Thomas Edison only had an hour to think of how he could possibly create illuminating bulbs. Would Van Gogh’s sunflowers be the iconic image they are today? Would electric currents even be able to flow through Edison’s light bulbs successfully? Great work comes with time, and when timeframes force us to hustle through an exam, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to present our full potential understanding towards a particular topic.
Being able to work under pressure is obviously a good thing, but in the case of seeking an objective measure of an individual’s understanding of a topic (especially a multi-faceted, humanities-related topic), forcing a student to work to the stopwatch can be detrimental and ineffective.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Dion Dong, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of ccarlstead (Flickr)