An exam should be a reward, not a jigsaw puzzle – University at Buffalo The Spectrum

I woke up, checked my phone and panicked.
I’d missed the 10-minute interval I had to start my test. A bolt of nerves surged through my body as I jumped from my bed and sprinted to my computer. I opened my laptop only to see the words “test in progress” with the “start exam” button, void of color. I stared at my computer in horror, tears welling up in my eyes. Everything went pitch black.
I woke up once more. 
“Holy s—t, thank God it was just a bad dream,” I said to myself. I rolled over to check the time on my phone: 9:17 a.m. 
All of the events of my nightmare repeated themselves: the negligence of time, the surge of nerves, the horror, the tears and the pitch black. 
What I’d experienced was a dream within a dream.  It repeated itself six times. Six times in the same nightmare. 
When I finally woke up for real, my anxiety was through the roof. Was this still my nightmare? Am I real? Am I late for my test? I had my roommate slap me across the face just to be sure.  
The night before, all I could think about was my upcoming exam. I had studied the past few nights and I thought I was fully prepared, but I was still anxious. My professor’s voice echoed through my head: “The upcoming exam will be open-note. However, these questions will not be straightforward. These questions will require you to apply your knowledge.
This isn’t my first rodeo with “applied knowledge” exams. I’ve experienced them many times before with many different professors and teachers. The same thing happens every time. I study my ass off, I feel prepared, I take the exam, I pass by the skin of my teeth. I’ve tried index cards, Quizlet, excessive note taking and textbook memorization, all to no avail. No matter what I do, these so-called “applied knowledge” questions always find a way to trick me. 
Many professors like to introduce a new concept during an exam that a student must understand using the notes they’ve taken in lecture and from their textbook. On paper, this is a wonderful way to expand a student’s understanding of the source material. But students need to be tested on their basic knowledge of class concepts before they can be asked to use said concepts in a larger problem. 
Giving students a trial by fire when they barely understand the basic concepts of the class is unfair to students. When a student sees a question that tests them on new content, their first thought is something along the lines of  “Oh God, we didn’t learn this in class. What am I going to do? I know, I’ll look up the answer on Google.” 
Confusing questions, potentially useless lecture knowledge and panicked Googling are not a recipe for success; they’re a recipe for, at best, barely passing an exam. It feels defeating. 
When students fail a class because of blatant neglect, they learn something. That’s not the case when they fail because of trickery. Students work day and night, sometimes sleeping in campus libraries, to absorb knowledge and press forward in their academic careers. If you’ve put in the hard work, an exam should be a reward. 
To absorb all that information only to be met with an exam that has little to do with the course material is exhausting. After a student fails to “perform” under an “applied knowledge” based exam, a sense of defeat settles in. A once successful and ambitious student now feels stupid and hopeless. That’s the opposite of what an education should do. 
Dylan Greco is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at dylan.greco@ubspectrum.com

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