Not on my side

Earlier last week I took an exam which does not meet my expectations of an exam.  The exam went far beyond the material covered in class while also having a wild variety of questions ranging from infantile to impossible.   We also had a trick question in the exam.  really?  Was that necessary?

I felt very betrayed mostly because one of the beliefs I held as a student was completely shattered in that moment.

I used to believe the professor was on my side.

However, the professor is not looking out for my learning like I would want him too.  In educational psychology I learned that if you wanted students to achieve, you needed to be transparent with your teaching.  That is: teach what you want them to learn and then test them on what you taught.  Don’t test them on extrapolating to broader contexts.   Doing this will not grade their abilities on the subject, but rather on their abilities as a critical thinker.  Which is fine.  If you want them to critically think- then train them to do so.  But, for example (Oh, imaginary teacher for whom I’ll never have the guts to tell this to in real life) do not give students computational problems all year long and also expect them to take abstract derivatives on the exam.  Students will not be able to do it with the training you gave them.

Anyways, I have mostly recovered from this incident, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.  I’m glad I’m almost done with the timed exam taking part of my life.  I’ll be glad to have that behind me.

About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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2 Responses to Not on my side

  1. Pedagogical History says:

    I believe you have run into one of the major changes in education in the late 20th century. Years ago, public education, assumed the role of screening the uneducated masses to flunk out those without talent and certify those with promise. The primary function of teacher, especially at the higher levels, was to test and judge and separate the talented from the rest. During these times, student failures were the fault of the students and a mark of a good teacher. Teacher would brag how many students dropped or failed. (“20% dropped out after my first quiz.”}

    Today, the pendulum has swung to the other side. Teachers are expected to educate all students and student failures are a mark against teachers.

    I believe this trend started with the military where everyone needed to be *successfully* trained. They started the trend of testing students on only what was taught and giving the instructors responsibility to train every person to successfully complete the course.

    Fifty years ago, teachers prided themselves on surprise/trick questions that separated the students with promise from the others. The entire public education system was directed at the few students at the top of the class. Today, educators are more often judged on the number of students that pass and the result is that teacher focuses on the bottom of the class where the challenge exists; the students at the top will pass regardless.

    Hopefully, as time progresses there will be fewer teachers trying to screen out some students and more teachers interested in teaching all the students, more teachers who judge themselves by high percentages of student successes, and fewer of the old school looking to create student failures.

  2. kibrolv says:

    the mix of passers-along and
    get-tough-or-failers is far
    more subtle than my learned
    colleague suggests.

    controlling this mix is
    a big part of management’s
    work and so is of course
    done in secret. we can
    only conjecture as to how
    it’s done in any given office
    (since we can be sure that
    whatever they tell us is lies).

    what they appear to want
    in the big picture
    is for as many people
    to take as long as possible
    to figure out that
    the only way they’re ever
    going to get anything
    worth having is to get
    the heck up out of school
    and get it.

    the mix will be adjusted accordingly.
    and never mind the social cost.

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