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Is it good practice to let students consult their text materials during exams?

Course Queries Syllabus Queries

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User

( 4 months ago )


I teach undergraduate level courses in the humanities. Following practice in my department, I have let students take their texts for consultation during their written exams. They can choose a number of questions they want to answer from a set of questions. After a few semesters, I have begun questioning the validity of such an approach.

I usually had one exam in this form and one final essay in the end of the semester. The issue is, although the subject dealt with in the first part of the course is more or less objective, I find students "copying" my classes much more than using the texts to answer the questions. A complicating factor is that most students cannot presumably understand the material, available only in English. To make it clear, most of my students cannot read English (I could mention the material is not available at the library, but that is another matter). And it is a required course.

What bothers me is that with this approach I cannot, as suspected, measure the level of understanding of the students. Some of the questions deal with very basic issues and concepts. Even then, the overall level of reading, understanding, and writing, as evidenced by their exams and final essays, is very low.

I have thought about changing the syllabus next semester, to one exam (without consultation), perhaps another exam and the final written assignment, but I am quite unsure of the results. Perhaps a lot of students will fail.

Am I too concerned, or is this the way to go?

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User

( 4 months ago )

I am in mathematics, so my experience will be different from yours. What I have found with tests on which I have allowed students to use their text or notes is that the students have not prepared as well as they should have, and waste a lot of time looking for things in their notes. Ultimately, they end up doing worse, as a class, than they usually would. Now, in math we have a lot less material for a test than in, say, history or political science, so there may be some legitimate reasons for allowing the students to consult other sources during an exam, but I do not recall ever being allowed to do so in the humanities courses I took as an undergraduate (mainly in political science and diplomatic history). I think a significant component of a college level education is learning how to absorb, and synthesize, relatively large amounts of material. So, my students have only their own brains to consult during an exam.

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