As college students these days, we don’t have to bother with a lot of things like we did in the past, like polio. So why should we bother with exams? It’s a troubling question.
It’s not a question that will get you in trouble, like, “Are you sure a knife is armed robbery?” No, it’s a troubling question because I’m worried it doesn’t make much sense and my editors will yell at me like usual. Also, I’ve been up all night studying for exams and my brain has liquefied and my eyeballs have all dried up and I wish my body would just go back to normal because it’s getting really hard to stay coherent and ask tougher questions like, “How do I explain to the student body how to fix the economy in under 800 words?”
Now, at this point you may be saying, “Gosh, I’d sure like to know how to fix the economy! Betcha I’d make a bundle of money if I fixed the economy!” Please quiet down; you’re making my headache worse.
Where was I? Let’s see, according to my column outline — which I make every time a column is due so I don’t just write nonsense — the fourth paragraph is where I introduce my thesis with a joke. (Note to English majors: A delayed thesis or even no point at all can be powerful in literature, such as “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.)
Thesis: Maybe we could stop taking exams…?
Joke: Why was the belt thrown in jail?
Punch line: Because he held up a pair of pants!
Now then: Exams — do we really need them? Through careful analysis, I’ve concluded that many students strongly dislike studying and it would be beneficial for the University to abandon them. My full results (which I’ve forwarded to University President Mary Sue Coleman) are slightly technical, of course, filled with graphs and statistics and allegories, so I’ll just present some basic points in this column, starting with:
The University is a business. We’ve all heard this before. Sometimes it’s expressed as, “That University is just a (bleep)ing business you little (bleep)” by our legal guardians, but the idea remains the same. And if the University wants to remain competitive in the business of attracting the best undergraduates, attracting the leaders among undergraduates — in short, attracting the best AND the leaders — then eliminating exams from the curriculum is a brilliant marketing ploy.
Who doesn’t want to have exams? Everyone. Statistically, then, the University would attract the majority of really intelligent students. At least I think so. Honestly, I have doubts about writing this and making the strategy public. I’m imagining the slogan, “The University of Michigan: Harvard without the exams!”
There’s also student health. I care deeply about the health of my fellow students and exams make them go absolutely crazy. Take my experience a couple days ago, when some idiot nearly assaulted me at a drinking fountain. The fountain in question was outside a lecture hall where my anthropology exam was to take place. There was plenty of time before the start of the exam, mind you, when I began to fill my water bottle.
The student in question, who had to wait, completely ignored the customs of our country and stood to the SIDE of me (rather closely, too), presumably so he could glare at me and remind me that he, too, would like some water, and fast, because the exam was about to start in ten minutes. To stress this point even further, the young man advanced closer and leaned against the wall in an intimidating manner as if he wanted to meet at the flagpole after the exam to settle things like men. Needless to say, I calmly finished filling my water bottle before returning his glare with a look that said, more or less, “Even though the discipline of anthropology stresses the diversity and equality of all human life, you, sir, are a (bleep)head.”
Of course, he was probably just stressed out or on drugs because of exams. How much longer will the University continue to subject students to such anxiety?
Lastly, there is plenty of technology available these days, making the process of memorization obsolete. Why does the University think exams arose in the first place? Because we didn’t have computers and the Internet to Look Stuff Up. Nowadays the practice of cramming loads of information into our heads is unnecessary.
All in all, in a perfect world we would learn things, rather than simply memorize them for exams, and then afterward, assuming this world is perfect, we would not be tested on the learning, wouldn’t even get grades, because letters don’t count for knowledge, and at the after-class party the professor would be cool and make funny jokes that were offensive, but in a good way, and the alcohol would be free, and everyone would have an extremely attractive significant other, and people would not be obnoxious at drinking fountains, and —
But I’m late for my exam. It’s Introduction to Logic, so I’m basically screwed, according to my editors.
Will Grundler is an assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.