All entries for Thursday 16 September 2004

September 16, 2004

Examinations must be Revised

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Why are we all interested in talking about this, all of a sudden? Let's see if I can get something deep out of this…

My style of learning is that I go to all the lessons, and listen, and learn stuff. I try to understand the meaning behind what is said, look back at it now and then to see if I can derive the ideas myself, realise I can't, jam my nose into a thick textbook and do exercises until I think I understand it.

And then I do something else. Like watch TV.

Apparently, this is all wrong.

But isn't there some sort of philosophical advantage to this method of learning – I mean, you are learning by doing, and if you manage to retain what you learnt at the start of the year, you can be pretty sure of remembering it for the rest of your life. Maybe. And if you forget, surely you are better of relearning from the start, than doing something scratchy and temporary like revision. Except for facts, which tend to be irrational and eminently strange, I barely ever revise.

What I most hate are graphs like this:

Supposedly, this shows the value of constantly going back over stuff. The blue bit shows how much you know, and the commentary talks about how by d-day (dashed line day) the crazed fool who constantly revises knows much more by the guy who doesn't.

Which is plain garbage.

First, where did they get the data for this graph? Have you ever see something about humans look so neat, so smooth? How can they keep factors consistent between the two groups? Obviously, it is made up on the spot.

And it is obviously over-simplified. Reality is that there is not just one graph per individual – there are dozen, because the student is required to retain multiple facts and methods at the same time. Do they consider how these things interfere? Do they consider how learning additional facts can help cement knowledge of fundamentals, or how spending too much effort on one thing can weaken memory of something else? Of course not.

And finally, the argument is philosophically absurd. Notice how the graph is neatly truncated at the right end. What if you extend it, to a more appropiate timescale of say, a decade? Wham. Mr Blue drops to zero, just like his companion Mr Red. And Mr Red probably enjoyed his education much more.

But its not the graph which is at fault – its the exams. Too much of education is focused on the exams, which are as can be clearly seen, a poor indicator of retention. The existence of revision itself is proof that exam papers are glorified mulch.


How about basing academic qualificiations on teacher assessment alone? This will also remove stuff about exam seasonal stress, and the usual tabloid ho-ha. To balance out differences in teachers, or potential biases, introduce a system of swapping teachers for the assessment month.

All against, or for, raise your hands.

Site of the day is:

Ripple tank simulator

I spent two hours playing on this.

September 2004

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