Taking exams is a big part of college. Exams regularly cause students a lot of stress, sleepless nights and crying. During this period of online learning, there has also been online testing, which can bring a new intensity to exams.
Between lockdown browsers, strict time limits on Canvas quizzes and an array of other issues, online testing becomes a new playing field. Navigating online learning and testing has gotten easier because students have a better idea of what to expect, but there are still uncontrollable factors, like if students’ computers crash or Wi-Fi cuts out.
Testing through exams in an online format is inherently unfair because while some students can test easily from their device and location, others do not have that same luxury.
Schools should use more effective evaluations such as more frequent and smaller tests, or they should use alternative methods like projects and presentations.
Testing online is unavoidable — and often necessary in many classes — but the way it’s done needs to change. It’s extremely stressful to take three tests the entire semester worth 80% of your grade. This shouldn’t be done online or in person.
Evaluating students on what they’ve learned is obviously an essential part of the classes students take, but there are better ways to conduct assessments.
David Smiley is a senior lecturer in the IU Department of Health and Wellness Design. Student persistence in higher education is one of his research interests.
“In this environment, professors should be giving tests more frequently and smaller tests,” he said.
In the long run, more frequent and smaller tests help ensure students are keeping up with the course. If you get one bad test score with frequent testing, not only does it even out if you do better in the future, but it also gives students a way to know they are struggling, so they know to ask for help.
“By having more tests and smaller stake tests, that will bring down the anxiety a little bit, because students if they have a true midterm and a final, they are being tested on half a course and then the second half of the course,” Smiley said. “That is, in these days, too much stress.”
This is a great fix for testing online, but in the future when we resume in-person classes, new testing methods might not persist.
“There are certainly majors out there that will always give a midterm and always give a final, but in many, many cases, we can be flexible with how we give tests, how many tests and what the percentage of the grade it is,” he said.
One thing all classes and majors can try to incorporate instead of tests are alternative projects such as papers, video presentations and other various displays of what has been learned in the course, he said.
Not everyone is a strong test taker, which has affected students even before learning was primarily online. Now is the perfect time to make changes in the structure of our courses as we transition back to in-person classes for the upcoming fall semester.
Traditional testing isn’t the only way to measure how much students know, and alternative ways of evaluating students' knowledge is a much-needed change. Online testing has exemplified students need different avenues to show their command of the material without sitting down and checking boxes.
There are various ways professors can make their courses more manageable — both through the manner they give traditional tests as well as nontraditional evaluations of knowledge.
These new structures should be adopted now, and they will hopefully reduce stress for everyone involved as we begin to transition to in person classes again.
Aidan Kramer (she/her) is a freshman studying microbiology. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine after she graduates.