Examining examinations

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    Exams are now looming ever so closer, and while I’ve yet to receive marks from my assignment, I’ve been pouring over articles and books for the past couple of weeks. I say ‘exam’ but I’m not entirely sure that is the best word to describe it. A close inspection of past examinations reveal the impending examination is something more of an essay – or a small assortment of mini-essays – which follows the same structure of Undergraduate study – there are certain topics on which you are expected to discourse and which you will be marked on.

    A dictionary definition of ‘examine’ is to inspect or scrutinize carefully, to enquire or investigate, to test knowledge. And while an essay is certainly a test on one’s knowledge into a chosen subject, is it really scrutinizing? Tuh - mey -toh, tuh - mah -toh? Perhaps, but I must admit the lack of specific questions addressing definitive answers somewhat confuses me. On the one hand open-ended questions address answer structure and steers students to a more academic style of writing in summarising and expressing one’s own opinion backed by theoretical knowledge, but on the flip side they sometimes fail specificity and allow for ambiguous answers.

    It’s the difference, for instance, from asking students to discourse on the labour market in European football to enquiring on the effects, to date, of the Bosman ruling on the Premier League. While they are both open-ended questions, the former lacks requirement of any specific knowledge – because the subject is so broad and one could write a 20-page article on it, the real mastery is in summarising. Meanwhile the latter requires particular knowledge of Jean-Marc Bosman, the European court ruling, the breakaway from the Football League, the labour market up to the 1995 ruling, and the astronomical impact on players, agents and the Premier League. Neither are incorrect ways in which to test knowledge, but it’s hard not to argue the latter scrutinizes knowledge – if the student has no knowledge of Bosman, they effectively have no means to answer the question.

    As for incentivizing critical assessment for our Master’s dissertation, I would argue the classroom is better suited for a debate. I’m not refuting a debate implies backing by theoretical awareness, which ultimately implies overall knowledge on a specific subject, but in my opinion an exam should aim to inspect and scrutinize knowledge rather than opening up the floor for opinions, whereas an assignment and, ultimately, the dissertation is designed to be a critical assessment of a selected subject. Meanwhile during the course module we’ve had an assortment of guest lecturers, but we’ve rarely had the opportunity to openly discuss any of the theory.

    (Of course now, having questioned the structure, I will probably fail my exam!)


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