Exams - what are they good for?


| 45 Posts


1 Apr, 2014 08:44

From my point of view and to quote the song "absolutely nothing"!!!

I am coming towards the end of my 2nd year on a Masters in HRM and am staring down the barrel of two exams in May for which I need to start preparing. I sat one in year 1 last year which was the first one I had sat since I left school at 16 some 32 years ago!!! Now I did okay in that exam but the old fears of cramming and trying to remember came flooding back and as I approach this final set of exams, those feelings are surfacing again, much as they did when I was 16.

Now there a lot of reasons why I would want to be 16 again but sitting exams is not one of them. For me they are merely a test of recall ability in the first instance whilst I appreciate that at Masters level there should be some analysis and critical assessment of the information being recalled but whichever I look at it, the first art of exams is remembering what you need to for a very condensed space of time.

Over 33 years of working I have built up knowledge which I use every day so I appreciate the need to be able to retain information but cannot see the merit of exam style assessment.

Happy to be convinced otherwise.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 7183 Posts

    Community Manager

    1 Apr, 2014 09:06

    Hi Jon,

    It ain't easy, I know. Maybe there's something in this previous thread. There are many others, too.

    Revision Tips for CIPD Exams

  • David

    | 20509 Posts

    Chartered Member

    1 Apr, 2014 09:35

    Having seen exams from both sides now, Jon, think they have a place in assessment, but that place is only good in parts.

    It's added security to get candidates doing all their own work under uniform time constraints: it doesn't need to involve mere recall of facts- I have done English hons. Degree exams where they let you refer to the original works, and of course all kinds of permutations between continuous assessment of course work and exams are possible too. The Open University for example does this well, but still incorporates a final exam component.

    I've also done a distance learning Masters degree which involved no exams at all; it was rigorously-assessed nonetheless, but suppose there wasn't quite the same 100% assurance that all of it was indeed my own work. In this regard, I have noted that school children with very supportive and educated parents tend to do very well indeed at continually-assessed GCSEs, yet give them a battery of aptitude tests under exam conditions and many of their less well-supported peers do better.

    So I wouldn't say exams were useless at all - sensibly-deployed, usually using multiple assessment perspectives they do  have their valuable uses.
  • Julia

    | 128 Posts

    Chartered Member

    1 Apr, 2014 10:48

    I am planning to do my Masters next year, and dread the thought of exams but have a sneaking suspicion that David is right - I think that exams have their place.  Haven't studied for 20 odd years so a very nervy Nora about the whole business.  Worst exam I ever sat was to thread up your sewing machine within a certain amount of time, torture but I survived:-)
  • David Perry

    | 4977 Posts

    Chartered Member

    1 Apr, 2014 10:59

    I haven't got the time to give a longer answer (Phew!!) but I was in exactly the same situation as you Jon, having left school at 16 with almost no qualifications and didn't do anything at uni until I was an adult.  It was hard.


    But there is a huge difference between able to remember things and being able to answer the essay style of questions asked in and by universities.  So I found a tutor who knew exactly what, "discuss"' meant and other academic questions and also found a fellow student who was good at answering that sort of question and that helped enormously.  

  • Jon

    | 45 Posts


    1 Apr, 2014 18:48

    Thanks for the sympathetic replies - seriously it is appreciated

    Steve - Thanks for the link to other threads - will definitely use this as I head towards May

    David - agree the synthesis of knowledge and its application is useful and I know other assessment methodology have their flaws but I would still contend that the first art of a time limited exam is the ability to recall the key information that you need to apply?

    Julie - good luck with your masters next year - I am probably the oldest in the class but that probably puts me at an advantage in terms of experience but not necessarily finely tuned study skills - although I am proud of having made it this far and even prouder if I get out the other side in one piece!!! Foolishly I have decided to undertake my dissertation at the same time so that I can accelerate the programme and finish in two years rather than 3 - seemed like a good idea at the time?

    David - also agree there is a difference between recall and application but as I answered to the other David you still have to recall the "theory" first where as in work I remember the knowledge as I apply it but not in an academic sense i.e. referencing the work.

    Deep deep down I know exams have their place - they are just not for me and I would rather avoid them if possible. 

    I am sure I will be a better person for the experience though!!!! 



  • David

    | 20509 Posts

    Chartered Member

    2 Apr, 2014 07:37

    Hope all goes well, Jon!

    (incidentally, weren't NVQ s conceived in order to be far fitter - for - purpose than exams ? CIPD themselves seem to have embraced NVQs but then pushed them well away when it comes to 'professional' competencies, but no-one there seems willing or able to explain exactly why.
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