Profs Debate Whether Students Should Be Exempted From Exams If They Get Good Grades

The pros and cons of exam exemptions.
Profs Debate Whether Students Should Be Exempted From Exams If They Get Good Grades

Should high-performing students who obtain excellent grades throughout the year be granted exemptions from exams? Such was the question addressed by professors and students in a Reddit thread earlier this year.

An online user under the alias mathhelpguy started the thread with a scenario:

"I have one student this semester who is outstanding. She has near perfect scores on everything. In my view, she doesn't need to take the final exam (which is cumulative) because she's already proven herself. She could probably randomly answer questions and still walk away with an A.

But now I'm wondering about other students who are not as outstanding ... I might say to them, "This semester, the final exam is optional... If you choose not to take it, you will be given a 70%. If you choose to take it, then you get whatever score you earn."

Have you ever done anything like this? Are there any potential pitfalls I could run into by doing this? What are your thoughts? For sure it would cut down on my grading."

Commenters, both students and professors alike, were quick to show their support and disapproval of the concept:

Phish_Dicks believed that if such a rule were enforced, it "should be in the syllabus from day one and apply to all students." That way, it would give all students an equal opportunity rather than only work in the favour of exceptional students.

adefe5 held an opposing view, mentioning that in her undergrad institution (located in a foreign country), it was common practice to only award one outstanding student an exemption from the final. In the user's perspective, it shoudn't be considered favouritism if the student deserved it.

JoJosh-The-Barbarian, along with several other posters, agreed that exams should be mandatory for all students, as "the final exam is an opportunity for students to prove what they can do and what they've learned."

LaLaLamore mentioned a different approach based on an experience she had with a past professor: to give students the option of taking the exam and having the result added to their final grade, or to skip it entirely and accept whatever grade they currently have.

How effective are exam exemptions for student performance? Trisha Dawe from education website Classroom states that exam exemptions can give students incentive to put in their best efforts throughout the term. They would be motivated to focus more on creating stellar assignments, performing well on unit tests and participating more in class. At the same time, she mentions that exam exemptions aren't so good for retaining skills and information, as there would be no follow-up on things learned throughout the year.

In Canada, Colonel Gray High School of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Islandran a pilot project that allowed students who earned at least a 65 per cent average to skip up to two exams. Students were also required to pass all of their assignments and have no more than six absences throughout the school year. While they declared the project a success (both staff and students said that the policy was a great motivator), they failed to convince other schools in the district to follow suit and eventually cancelled it altogether after one year.

Would you want your school to enforce an exam exemption policy?

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