Nowadays, many students and teachers alike agree that our traditional Western educational system has many flaws or is at least ineffective, failing to keep up-to-date with other scopes of our society. In this context, there is no word that brings forth more shivers than "exams", regardless of which school or university year the student may be.
The reasons why students fear the word "exam" are many but the core of it all lies in the anxiety it evokes. And with our world becoming ever more globalized, discussions over new methods of teaching - especially in terms of evaluation – are much more common.
Among the questions raised are the effectiveness and fairness of exams – which consequently promotes the search for other alternatives to this traditional and even outdated method of assessing the student's performance. In this search for optimizing evaluation systems, the concept of coursework comes as an efficient alternative to exams, easy to apply in all situations or educational frameworks.
What is coursework
Unlike the exam method – which relies on a final test englobing a huge amount of content to assess a grade to the performance of a student – a coursework approach opts for a more consistent evaluation over a longer period of time. In other words, coursework is any practical or written tasks performed by the student throughout the months of study. These are then compiled as a summary of the student's performance and added to the final grade at the end of the academic year.
Hence, a coursework oriented course provides a much more balanced and accurate evaluation of how much a given student actually understood about the subjects discussed. However, not all schools or university courses can be fully coursework-based and many argue that the very freedom a coursework provides may ultimately hinder the student's ability to learn as he/she may get far too much "outside help". While this may be a valid point at first glance, once a pupil understands his/her responsibility towards the flexibility granted by coursework (and how not taking it seriously can affect their performance in the future), they are more likely to study hard.
With that in mind, below are some reasons why coursework is better than exams:
This is probably the main motive for students to cringe at the thought of an exam: the fact that exams induce stress. But it is not only the stress generated on the day of the exam what weighs most people down; there is the whole anticipation for that single decisive moment that can make or break your final result. Such anticipation often comes to life in the form of sleepless nights, constant worries and far too many revisions. Conversely, when doing coursework you don't have to deal with a decisive moment and thus are able to relax more and perform better.
No time restrictions
Although deadlines are a part of the coursework approach, the fact that those usually involve a couple of weeks to finish an assignment (as opposed to a couple of hours) makes the practice much more organic. In the same way, having more time to complete a given task or write a paper means you can choose when to work on it and thus avoid moments when your productivity levels are down. This is particularly important for people who, for instance, are more active late at night – not the usual time for a regular exam. Moreover, the pressure generated by having to finish something right there and then, within a very short timespan, is non-existent in coursework based systems.
You are free to outsource help
Another relevant feature of coursework is that it allows you to seek out help from friends and colleagues if it needs be, while in an exam you are on your own and under pressure of getting it right. When thinking about it, the objective of an exam is to assess how much the student has learned and just because he/she doesn't remember (or can't understand the question) at that minute it doesn't mean the information hasn't been absorbed. Sometimes we just need a push, or a helping hand to show us another direction. After all, we are not alone in the world and chances are you will be interacting and learning from people for the rest of your life. That alone is a strong argument for bringing in more coursework to education systems – the sharing of knowledge.
Explore a variety of resources
One thing we can all agree on is that we are no robots. Likewise, we learn in different ways, at a distinct pace and have more or fewer limitations to absorb information. While exams require you to access info gathered over a large period of time and express it clearly right there and then, coursework-based programs allow you to explore resources other than your own memory. For example, a student may choose some website to help him/her on a specific assignment or at least part of it. When this website has provided the assistance needed, the student may refer to a book, a podcast, a YouTube tutorial – whatever assists him/her to access and unlock relevant information.
Change as you go
As an exam cliche, many of us have answered something on question 2 only to want to change it with 5 minutes before the end. This is yet another unfair characteristic of an exam – the inability to change your mind, or if you do so, is limited by the clock. On the other hand, coursework systems encourage you to review what you have already thought to have finished since we often leave some important remarks out.
These are some of the pros of choosing coursework over exams, but then again, we all have our preferences and some people may still opt for the latter. Still, if you are about to choose your modules or if you have the opportunity to change something in a given education program, make sure to keep in mind the flexibility of coursework.