Testing your knowledge: exams or projects?

By Jillian Milam
October 14, 2005


A student sits in their seat with their eyes on the clock, dreadfully anticipating the second hand to strike 11. “OK folks, it’s 11:00. Time to begin the exam,” the teacher says without one strand of nervousness. As the teacher calmly hands out the tests, row by row, you wonder if anyone else is as nervous as you are and the doubts begin to flow in. ‘Did I read the material enough in the textbook?’ ‘Did I make enough index cards?’ ‘I knew I should’ve gone over that one section in our notes better.’ ‘Did I even study the right chapter?’ The questions you’re asking yourself seem to engulf your mind, while the questions on the test seem to scream out, “Ha Ha, try to answer me!” Fidgeting in your seat, you try to get it together and attempt to focus on remembering what you studied.

While some students know this scenario all too well when taking a test or exam, some students feel the same way about the alternative method teachers use to test our knowledge: papers, presentations and projects. Both systems seem to cast a lingering, dark cloud over students’ minds when they think of having to do either; however, some students prefer one over the other. Tests and exams verses the triple P: papers, presentations and projects. Which would you rather have?

“I prefer presentations,” Colleen Bowman, a senior business major, said. “Only when you get to pick your group though. I hate when teachers assign the groups, because I normally end up doing the work,” she said. “That’s when presentations turn out not to be beneficial to the students.”

Bowman believes projects to be more beneficial than tests because they include experience. “You do the actual research and get involved, whereas when you have a test, you tend to cram before it and then all of the information you learn is lost right after you take the test,” she said.

In regards to views on the benefits of presentations, Bowman and Dawn Francis, Asst. Professor of Communication, share similar beliefs.

“Having worked in corporate communications before coming to Cabrini, I can tell you that most of my days were spent writing business proposals and presenting business solutions to clients,” Francis said. “Therefore, when I think about the most essential skills for students to possess when they leave Cabrini, I recall my own job requirements- papers and presentations to clients or company employees.”

Some students experience the blank-mind effect the moment a teacher hands them a test or exam. Whether it is a blue-book test or a series of multiple-choice questions, the empty loose-leaf and vacant answer lines leaves students a sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs.

“I know a lot of people who have test anxiety. I have it myself,” Christina Shelley, senior individualized for physical therapy major, said. “I don’t think it’s fair because say a teacher gives four tests during a semester. That’s all you’re judged on,” Shelley said.

Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist, created a chart with the help of other educational psychologists that represents intellectual behavior important in learning. (http://www.officeport.com/edu/blooms.htm) Titled Bloom’s Taxonomy, it was developed in 1956 and proved that over 95 percent of the test questions students encounter require them to think only at the lowest possible level, knowledge, or the mere recollection of information. The chart consists of six levels. The lowest is knowledge, the second is understanding, the third is application, the forth is analysis, the fifth is synthesis and the top level is evaluation.

“Exams are still important assessment tools for testing knowledge and understanding,” Francis said. “Papers and presentations, on the other hand, serve a different and vital purpose. They assess a student’s ability to synthesize and analyze complex subject matter and present it in such a way that it has meaning to the receiver audience,” she said.

So while some students shiver in their seats awaiting those nerve-wrecking exams, others find more ease in tests as opposed to papers, presentations or projects. Whether you have the “blue-book blues,” writer’s block or fear of presenting, students endure an array of all different types of methods during their college career.

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@yahoogroups.com. The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.

Posted to the web by Matt Schill

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Jillian Milam

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