The Negative Effects Exams Have on College Students Today


Exams, every college student knows they are coming and dreads it. They fill the library and coffee shops with overworked students twice a semester during midterm and finals week, with the exception of the extra exams professors throw in between. What is the purpose of these exams? To test students on all of the knowledge they have learned throughout the course, in return playing a large part in their final grades and GPA. So… simply put they are a pretty big deal, I get it. We cannot just glide through each course without having to provide proof of our knowledge of the material. But, are 100 question exams with essays that require extensive memorization of information really the best and most humane way to evaluate students? This is being questioned not only because of the negative effect a low GPA can have on laying the framework for the rest of your life but for the welfare of students and their overall mental health. Let’s discuss what universities and their staff should be considering when scheduling their next exam week.

Students studying on the 2nd floor of the Francis. A Drexel Library.

As for the logical issues that come along with large exams, the most pressing concern is the area of information they cover. Professors expect students to review almost every piece of material learned throughout the entire semester for a cumulative final exam. (Keep in mind, one semester is approximately 16 weeks of instruction) From my experience, sitting in the library for hours upon hours, for days if not weeks leading up to one exam seems cruel and hopeless. I’ve asked myself many times, when in life… in the real world, will I ever need to memorize this much information at one time? In workplace situations, you rely on critical thinking and personal skill to complete tasks and get your job done. How does re-teaching yourself 4 months worth of material for one test accurately show if you are ready for the workforce? Aside from teaching you information and skills that complement your area of study, college courses are supposed to prepare you for actively working in your desired career. Another concern about exams is the weight they carry on your overall grade. In most classes, the midterm and final exam together add up to anywhere from 40%-70% of your final letter grade. This is a problem because with a seemingly impossible exam to succeed on, a low grade can alter your GPA greatly. To both college students and employers, GPA is not just a number. For example, if you are pursuing a career in the medical field or you are interested in becoming a lawyer, you are required to attend medical school or law school. The task of receiving admission into a graduate school is difficult in itself; and your GPA from your undergraduate university could make it even more difficult.  Even in the workforce, a low GPA on your resume could also have a negative impact on whether you get the job or not. Because of these reasons, I believe it is well over time to change the way institutions test students on their knowledge and comprehension of their courses.

Not only are students’ futures being affected, but their mental health is suffering as well. For starters, it is extremely common for college students to stay up late… if not all night cramming for an important exam. With the suggested amount of sleep for college students being around 8 hours, they are getting close to half of that. Sleep is vital for a human brain to function at its highest potential, and it says a lot that students feel they have to sacrifice something as major as sleep to get a few extra hours of studying in. On top of the lack of much-needed rest, the emotional stress and anxiety that is placed on students through the entire process of studying and completing the exam are just dangerous. As shown in the infographic above, more than half of the individuals that completed the survey stated that they had more anxiety than they did in the past, before college exams. Depending on the number of credits each student is taking during a specific semester, this process and the anxiety that comes with it is repeated on average 5-6 times, once for each course. Institutions need to consider new ways of testing students, without extensive emotional and mental stress. Professors should be focusing on techniques that can examine a student using the information learned in a somewhat real-life setting. A way that universities can ensure that we are knowledgeable with the course material… and that we have the ability to use that knowledge to further us on our career path. 

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