Are Exams Fair?

December 5, 2011

Political Theory


Are tests fair in school for all students? Are big exams fair for all students? What I mean by fair is that there are some students who take tests easily, they don’t have to apply themselves to studying that much, and they can do really well on a test. Would Rawls consider this kind of justice fair? He might ask if there is equality when it comes down to tests and how they are organized and how focused students are. Then there are some students who struggle taking tests, but work and prepare extremely hard for a test and still do not do very well. Because of this, is it fair that your future should be determined on a matter of a couple tests in a class? I do not believe that is it fair to some people.
I believe there is too much pressure on college students these days to ace every test in order to make it to the next level. Whether it is making it into the Ross Business School here at Michigan or getting into a graduate school that is extremely challenging, it does not seem fair that many applications are just viewed from the grade a student receives on a matter of a couple tests. They do not know about the person from a personal level. Yes applications do show extra curriculars, but a student is not always given the chance to explain who they really are and how they go about conducting their work ethics, which I believe is the most important part of a person. A person’s work ethic is so crucial because it shows a person’s character, whether they represent themselves well, and it also shows how a person can manage their time. I would rather take someone as an employee with really strong work ethics that gets a B in a class than someone who goes through the motions when studying but is smart enough to receive an A. Life can be less stressful if you can manage your time and be able to balance everything. Along with everything else a college student has going on in their lives, I still believe there is too much pressure on students to perform well on tests which can determine their future.
What if I am an extremely hard working person with everything I do but still just cannot do as well on tests as I would like? Speaking from a personal level, just because I am not a great test taker in college as I would like to be, does that mean I will not excel after college in my future? I know I am speaking for many people out there or at least for people who know where I am coming from. I have never taken an Econ class before and this past fall I took Econ 101 and did not do very well on the first exam. It woke me up on much I have to prepare and study for the next one. I received tutoring, studied with classmates, did extra practice problems, took practice exams, and whatever else it took to feel fully prepared for the next exam. The day of the second exam I felt extremely confident and I believed I knew everything I needed to know to do well. Unfortunately I did not do as well as I would have liked and it forced me to drop the class. I worked as hard as I could and knew everything, but in the end I just did not do well. I believe I have a very good work habit and mange my time fairly well. If I decide to take Econ again next semester and choose to apply to Ross, is it fair that they only see the grade I will receive? Don’t they want someone who knows they have a good work habit and wants to do as best they can in their future and in the business world? That is why I do not always believe tests are fair at school.
Rawls might agree with what I say because he would talk about the principle of equal liberty. What Rawls means by equal liberty is that each person has an equal right to be on a level playing field. And with tests, students cannot be on a level playing field because some might have anxiety when taking tests by getting nervous and some might not be as skilled with their writing but might be more skilled with another subject. Rawls would agree that tests are not fair because each person is not as equal when it might come down to taking tests. Is it really fair to grade someone off of one thing like a test? You have to look at a person as a whole and what each individual brings to the table that is unique. What is a person’s identity from their work habits and how do they manage their time in school with extra curriculars and work itself? Rawls would consider that equality. How can you judge someone if they have the best work habits you have ever seen but someone else scores better on a test from barely studying? Is that fair to the individual that constantly studies? Why do you think our Polisci 101 class does not have any exams? Are tests and exams always fair to determine your future by putting all that pressure on college students? Whether or not you have had this experience, I do not believe tests and exams are fair to determine a student’s future.

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8 Comments on “Are Exams Fair?”

  1. elotis Says:

    I completely agree with you that a test grade should not be the most weighted factor in an application for school, and this issue actually infuriates me because of my plans to apply to law school. I have worked extremely hard the past three and half years here at Michigan and I have been active outside of school in clubs and law internships and research on criminal tribunals in the UN. I had great recommendations and essays and grades, however, I did not score as well as I wanted to on the LSAT, therefore, I cannot go to law school next year as I had planned on. I look at the people who get into these amazing law schools because they did well on the LSAT, and I think, “that should be me. I know I could do well in law school.” I grew up with my parents telling me that hard work pays off, but after going through the undergrad and grad school application process, I’m starting to think luck and good test-taking skills pay off. Maybe I would have a different opinion if I had amazing test-taking skills, but I don’t, and I actually have to spend a long time studying. It’s not that tests aren’t fair, those who study and do well should be rewarded with good scores, and the opposite goes for those who do not. However, I think the weight and emphasis put on these tests is not fair. Other factors should be taken into consideration.

    With that being said, I really like the grading system in this class. I am in my last semester here at Michigan, and this innovative system is the first one that I have come across. I think in the end, everyone’s grades will be truly reflective of the effort they put into this class, and not just getting A’s because they got lucky on some exams. I like that we can choose components, and be rewarded for our strengths. I also think it makes us become more interactive throughout the entire semester, as opposed to skipping every lecture all semester and cramming for a last minute exam. It is a good system for an intro-level class, but I do not agree that it would work for every other class at Michigan.

  2. cchevat Says:

    I do personally understand where the sentiment of this post is coming from. I do find that sometimes I am that person who is working very hard and does not always get the grade that I believe I deserve. This can be seen as exams being unequal but what else is a professor of a huge lecture supposed to do?
    While in PoliSci 101 we do have the luxury of not having exams, there is still an unfairness that is equivalent to someone breezing through an exam. Let’s just say a person decides to allot their full 60% of their grade to the first 2 page paper. This person starts this paper an hour before its due and easily gets an A. Another student may decide to choose to divide up their grade differently and in effect, making more work for themselves in order to have as many opportunities as possible to get a good grade but ends the term with a B.Yes the decision of the allocation of grades is fully up to the students. That first person may not realistically deserve the A because maybe they stopped coming to lecture after they received their grade and began slacking in section. This is similar to the exam analogy because a person who does little work can still get a high grade.
    Outside of school, that person that tried really hard in school may be the most excellent interviewer and land a job while the person who glided through school may not have good interviewing skills. This could be seen as a time when working hard has paid off, it just took a longer time for that work to come to fruition. So based off of Rawls who believes in “justice as fairness” , the “justice” that should result from a person’s hard-work may come at different times for different people based on their own inherent skill-sets.

  3. mcdonmeg Says:

    I think that you bring up some very good points in this blog. I also agree that people’s futures should not be based solely on their grades. I knew many people in high school who seemed like they never needed to study to get A’s and yet I had to study a lot in order to receive good grades. As much as I think it would be easier to be one of those students where getting A’s is simple, I am glad I wasn’t one of them because I think I have gained a better work ethic and study habits by having to work for good grades. As much as I agree that it is not fair, I can understand why usually our future is based on grades. Grades are the only data to easily differentiate people and to “rank” them. Yes, when it comes to a job I’d rather have the B student who is hard working then an A student who is not hardworking, but how do I know if that would be the case? Therefore on resumes, I think its easiest to just differentiate them by grades for people coming right out of college. I don’t think it’s until people get interviewed that the employer gets a better idea about what kind a person he or she is, and can differentiate the applicants besides grades and academic accomplishments. As much I think it’s unfair to distinguish people by grades, because of this I think school’s and business’s will continue to focus a lot on just grades.

  4. Brandon Baxter Says:

    While I agree that grades and our GPA to be specific is critical in going to grad school, professional school, law school, dental school, etc. However, I am skeptical as to how important our exam scores will be in the real world. I doubt that an organization or a company is going to be significantly less interested in me because I got a C on a statistics exam my sophomore year in undergrad. I would be surprised if organizations or companies even had access to these scores. I am not saying that exam scores are not important and I am not suggesting that students shouldn’t care or be concerned about them. But I believe that experience, involvement, and skill is what will matter in the future. I knew many people in high school and I know people in college who focus specifically on their grades. And because of that they end up receiving A’s on all of their exams and a stellar GPA. But what they lack is experience. The majority of these people are not involved with organizations, community service, work, etc. Are exams easy for everyone? Absolutely not, but projects are not easy for everyone, involvement in organizations is not easy for everyone, balancing a job with schoolwork is not easy for everyone, etc. The point of college is not perfection, but rather finding a successful balance between all of your responsibilities.

  5. ywjpeter Says:

    You are right, test grades should not be the only methodology to judge someone, and in college there are other ways they do this. A lot of classes use paper writing and other methods to grade someone, but still it is true, a lot of classes are still based 90% on exams and maybe 10% on attendance or other sources. The problem I have with this whole test business is what does it truly tell about a person. I understand there is no other way to measure someone up against another in a lecture with 200+ students, but this class incorporates a different perspective, and I can say I feel I had a fair chance to succeed. Test have been just a conventional way to grade people, and getting out of this system would require a lot of work though. It is a simple system where 3 exams can give a teacher an idea of what the students knowledge of the subject is, and whether we like it or not measures us in the real world. In the beginnings of this university system, education was about learning and people went to school to learn and not to be graded. Now the vice versa is true. People go to school to only focus on getting good grades to get a good job. The learning factor has been put down and achievement is at the forefront of every student in a university.

    It may not be fair but it will last a long time as a way to measure people.

  6. blogger32 Says:

    This post talks about a topic all of us students can definitely relate to, especially with exam week coming up. I think you make an interesting point about students who are good test takers having a major advantage over those who are not. There is no question that it’s very annoying to see a friend or classmate do better on an exam that you know they studied way less for. However, I think you should take into account how that same person who barely studied but did so well on the test may struggle at writing research papers, while you really excel at. Additionally, I think there is definitely inequality when it comes to exams because not all students can afford to get that great calculus tutor that you can, or buy the comprehensive review book a professor may recommend.

    I think a point you make that is really interesting is that you would rather hire someone who got B’s with a great work ethic than someone who got A’s not working their hardest. I think that in a situation like this one, it really isn’t that simple. For example, it’s important to consider what kind of real world and interpersonal skills each candidate has. I see plenty of students here at UM who are brilliant and do great in all their classes but have absolutely terrible social skills and have no idea how to work in small groups or with others. One thing I will say in defense of standardized testing, is if you look at a test like the ACT or SAT, most of the time students receive scores that correlate with what kind of student they are over their 4 years of high school. What I mean by this, is that it’s very rare to see someone with a 2.5 GPA score a 31 on the ACT. Also, when it comes time to make decisions about who to hire for jobs, employers look at resumes, so that they are able to get a better idea of what the applicant is all about….and not just look at their GPA.

    I think that Rawls’ idea of equal liberty is a great one, in that every student should have an opportunity to get the tutors or study guides another student might have, but in our world today inequality is everywhere and unfortunately that is just how things are.

  7. zrobbins24 Says:

    After reading this post, I find that I both agree and disagree with the author in various aspects. I agree with the point that exams are not for everyone, but neither is writing. Grades based on only one or the other is not necessarily fair. Personally, I struggle with writing, yet many classes determine their grade largely based upon papers, giving an edge to those whose strengths are in writing. Some people are good at taking exams, while some people are good at writing papers. The “lucky” ones are good at both. I feel that pointing to exams as the flaw in the grading system in college is unfair. There are many other factors that are involved. Students are able to choose classes that they want to take, so, if a class has many exams and a student is not good at taking exams, they should not take that class. I realize that many introduction classes are giant lectures that include exams and enrollment is mandatory, but the student has freedom in selecting electives. Thus, if a student is not good at taking exams, they can choose elective classes that do not have many, or even any, exams. As a corollary, students who are not good at writing or giving presentations should elect classes with exams and few, if any, papers.

    With regards to the real world, I agree that one exam does not have much bearing on whether or not one gets a job (unless it makes up most or all of the grade in the class). However, multiple exams certainly do. If one does not do well on multiple exams, whether it is in the same class or many classes, one’s GPA can severely suffer. A common saying is, “your GPA gets you an interview, but your personality at the interview gets you the job.” Therefore, one’s GPA does matter and a bad grade on multiple exams can hinder one’s chances at getting an interview. It is very difficult for a person to get an interview, and subsequently the job, without a good GPA, even if the person has the best personality and work ethic.

  8. pbaumhart Says:

    I hate tests. With that out of the way I see somewhat of a flaw in your argument. Although tests can be unfair to students, they are a necessary evil. When applying to schools or jobs they do not just look at GPA’s but they also take into account many personal attributes. I am of course referring to a résumé and personal statement. Here you are given the opportunity to present yourself in a manner that benefits your chances of getting into a school, program or company. Your GPA does hold a major role in this process but it is by no means the sole contributing factor towards your success.

    Also on a personal note, Econ 101 is evil and I am literally drowning in all the coursework in preparation for the third and final midterm. Although I would absolutely love to skip taking this exam it is required for me to take if I have any hopes of getting into Ross.

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