MAASTRICHT. Poorly formulated questions, typos, the degree of difficulty: SBE students occasionally have a point and there are genuine issues with an exam. In such cases, it’s understandable that they band together in protest. But these days they seem to be doing it even for spelling mistakes. Moreover, some tutors have found themselves being dragged through the mud on Facebook. The importance students place on exams appears to be on the rise.
A growing group of SBE students seem to hope to pass their courses by copying everything that’s not nailed down: old assignments, exams, answer keys. Many also sign up for additional tutoring or exam preparation at Jules Maastricht or other external companies. So when exam time rolls around and they find a mistake in the test, they become extremely indignant, says Rudolf Müller, member of the SBE faculty board. “They’ve put in a great deal of preparation, paid a lot of money for the extra tutoring, and then if the exam doesn’t meet their expectations they get angry and go looking for errors, or blow them out of proportion.”
In other words, the study behaviour of some students, at least, seems to be changing. From day one of the course they are focused on the exam, according to Müller, rather than thinking about the tutorials, the assignments and the discussions which are supposed to help them understand the subject matter.
The underlying question is, what is the purpose of an exam? “Some students think we use exams to settle scores with them, to be able to get rid of them. That of course is not true. The idea of an exam is to help students identify gaps in their knowledge and give them a chance to plug those gaps.”
You could compare it with training for a sport, says Müller. “If a coach tells a runner his time is not good, it’s not the done thing for the athlete to get angry. Ultimately the coach only wants the best for his disciple. In that relationship there’s always a certain tension. The trainer challenges you, pushes you, but always with the aim of helping you improve. Incidentally, it’s not only SBE that’s dealing with this changing attitudes to exams. I think it’s going to keep the EdLab very busy in the coming years.”
If students feel they are being taken for a ride, an atmosphere of distrust arises. “And in turn, the student’s attitude has an effect on the tutor’s motivation. Tutors start to think students are only there for the exam, and that it doesn’t matter what or how they teach.”
Partly to prevent this type of fuss, SBE is trying to improve the quality of its exams. But what is it doing to change students’ attitudes? “We put a lot of time into explaining what we see as an appropriate study attitude”, Müller says. “This isn’t high school. We want students to share their learning experiences with tutors in order to develop their skills. We also intend to incorporate this into our strategy.”