Exams without books and Google? They're too hard, say uni students

Exams without books and Google? They’re too hard, say university students amid plans to return to traditional in-person assessments

  • Oxford Undergraduates said they’ll need adjustment for in-person assessments 
  • In a letter to tutors PPE students said ‘online exams require a different skill set’
  • They added the move leaves ‘minimal time’ to ‘completely rewrite their notes’
  • University students are in uproar over plans to return to traditional in-person exams this year because it will require them to ‘memorise large quantities of information’.

    Several institutions plan to move away from the open-book, online exams put in place during the pandemic and bring back timed, hand-written papers in exam halls. 

    But undergraduates are upset because they won’t be able to bring in books, consult notes or use Google.

    Jesus College in Oxford. Undergraduates on Oxford's PPE degree said: 'Online exams require a different skill set; they focus less on memory, and more on the ability to synthesise information effectively into an argument'

    Jesus College in Oxford. Undergraduates on Oxford’s PPE degree said: ‘Online exams require a different skill set; they focus less on memory, and more on the ability to synthesise information effectively into an argument’

    In a letter to tutors, undergraduates on Oxford’s famous philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) degree said: ‘Online exams require a different skill set; they focus less on memory, and more on the ability to synthesise information effectively into an argument.

    ‘To prepare, we have been looking at making detailed notes that can be easily used to answer a question, rather than memorise large quantities of information.

    ‘Advising students now of the in-person format leaves them minimal time to completely rewrite their notes before finals.’

    Oxford PPE graduates include former Prime Ministers David Cameron, Ted Heath and Harold Wilson, as well as current Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

    University students are in uproar over plans to return to traditional in-person exams this year because it will require them to 'memorise large quantities of information' (file photo used)

    University students are in uproar over plans to return to traditional in-person exams this year because it will require them to ‘memorise large quantities of information’ (file photo used)

    Most online exams held since March 2020 have not been supervised, with students given between 24 and 72 hours to return their answers.

    Research shows that those sitting such exams online were more likely to cheat by consulting third parties or hiring so-called ‘essay mills’ to complete the tests for them.

    As Oxford starts to reintroduce in-person exams, students are also complaining that they will be left at a disadvantage compared to those on courses where virtual tests are being retained.

    Southampton University is also beginning to stage some in-person exams, prompting the Student Union to complain that the plans will leave undergraduates feeling ‘unsafe’.

    Most online exams held since March 2020 have not been supervised, with students given between 24 and 72 hours to return their answers (file photo used)

    Most online exams held since March 2020 have not been supervised, with students given between 24 and 72 hours to return their answers (file photo used)

    But critics accused students of trying to avoid rigorous assessment standards. 

    Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: ‘In-person exams are by far the best means we have of assessing what a student actually knows, understands and can do.

    ‘The protests give the game away – online exams open the door to manipulation and downright cheating. Universities should get back to proper exams straight away.’

    Undergraduates are upset because they won't be able to bring in books, consult notes or use Google (file photo used)

    Undergraduates are upset because they won’t be able to bring in books, consult notes or use Google (file photo used)

    Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘Online exams are popular with many students because they are an easy way out of being challenged by the real thing.

    ‘Universities should be building resilience, not allowing snowflake students to take the easy option.’

    An Oxford spokesman said: ‘The university continues to offer a variety of different assessment types this year, from online open-book exams to in-person examinations.

    ‘Departments have confirmed the format of each exam to their students, based on the specific pedagogical considerations in each course.’

    Southampton University said: ‘After extensive discussions, the university has decided that while a significant number of exams will take place online, some in-person exams will also take place as planned. This is in line with the Government’s advice.’