Are Exams Still Relevant - Fresh

Making the Grade – Are Exams Still Relevant?

mind the gap year


For many students, exams are a necessary evil. Stressful and time-consuming, but also inevitable. But are exams really evil? And, more importantly, are they really necessary?

In 2011, Macquarie University in Australia debated whether to get rid of exams completely. They argued that exams fail to develop questioning, self-sufficient learners and promote a superficial and inauthentic understanding of subjects. Whether you agree with this or not, there are both negatives and positives to being tested in a more theoretical way.

Student Mental Health a Concern

In the past few years, more emphasis has been placed on students’ mental health at universities. Poor mental health amongst students has been reported all around the world, with a particular focus on uni students. University mental health services have experienced a massive increase in demand, with the number of students accessing these services rising by 50% between 2010 and 2015.

According to studies, uni students are likely to experience high levels of depressive symptoms, which affects how they learn and impacts when they finish their degrees. This means that poor mental health can affect the career potential and overall lives of students long after they leave uni.

Most of the research points out the biggest challenges for students include the transition to university life, coursework deadlines, exams and financial difficulties.

Coursework Versus Exams – the Great Debate

While exams have always been a good form of assessment, changing times suggest they may not be as relevant as they once were. While exams aim to test a student’s knowledge of a subject, they don’t always accurately measure capability and skill.

Many feel that instead of exams, good assessment programs and coursework are more than enough to evaluate performance. These provide a balanced, fair evaluation of how well a student can apply their skills to real scenarios, allowing them to demonstrate what they know.

Balancing Act

The goal of exams is to test a student’s breadth of knowledge, while assessment programs aim to enable students to demonstrate what they know.

Exams do have specific advantages. In subjects where research skills are important, a research proposal could be a better way to determine the skills of a student, while subjects that require solid oral communication skills could assess students via presentations.

In subjects where the scope of knowledge is a crucial factor, exams can be supplemented with essays, class debates, and similar assessments. While it’s true that exams cannot do everything, they do provide a thorough evaluation of a student’s knowledge.

In all uni courses, students are required to meet multiple milestones in terms of learning and knowledge. Therefore, a balanced assessment program is critical. Rather than getting rid of exams completely, a good mix of assessment tasks and exams could be the answer.

What Employers Want

According to an extensive survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, employers place more weight on experience, especially internships and employment, during school versus academic results. In fact, industries like science & tech, service & retail and media & communications often value experience over grades.

Internships and employment experience gained during university are at the top of the list of highly valued attributes by employers:


  • Internships – 23%
  • Employment during uni – 21%
  • Degree – 13%
  • Volunteer experience – 12%
  • Extracurricular activities – 10%
  • The relevance of coursework – 8%
  • Academics – 8%
  • Uni reputation – 5%


When it comes to academic credentials, the type of degree you have is the most important factor for prospective employers, although internships and employment during university are top traits employers consider when hiring recent graduates.

Extracurricular activities like athletics, professional clubs and service are also highly favoured over grades, coursework and university reputation. When it comes to sought-after skills needed, employers look for aptitude in written and oral communication skills, adaptability, decision-making and problem-solving.

Should More Emphasis be Placed on Experience Over Exams?

Some subjects are skill-based and practice-orientated, while others require students to memorise and understand theory and information. That said, all theoretical knowledge of skill-based subjects needs to be supported by practice.  Exams, coursework and assessments are all valuable in a student’s development at university, although its importance can be subject/career or even employer specific.

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