3rd year Economics students have not had an easy time of it. They are the first cohort to have had January exams in both their first and second years, with second year January exams going so badly that all 600 Macroeconomics students had their grade bumped up by ten marks. Keep in mind also that they did three exams in less than 48 hours over the January period. The department learned their lesson: January exams needed to be modified. Current second years have Lent term exams weighted at only 25% instead of 50% of their grade, and Econ students in their third year don’t have Lent term exams.
Yet after the disillusion with the Economics department had settled down, and after people had reconciled themselves to their low marks, a friend told me, “Actually, January exams are probably a good thing. Can you imagine if our entire mark was solely dependent on how we did in four exams at the end of the year?”
Imagine that indeed. I can almost see why exam-based assessment is a necessity for more quantitative modules, even though I think assessment should be spread out across the year: perhaps two exams not weighted very heavily at the end of the Michaelmas and Lent terms respectively, to give students December completely off. But as a former GV101 and GV245 student, I have no idea why departments still insist on testing your ability to write an essay under exam conditions. Surely if they want to know how well you can write an essay, the easiest way is to write an essay as part of assessed coursework? Writing four essays in three hours — as poor GV100 students have to do –is not a good way of testing anything apart from how well you have memorised previously created essay plans.
In third year, most Government options are assessed purely based on how effectively you write an essay. One of my most rewarding academic experiences so far has been writing my GV309 summative 3500 word essay on Brexit, carefully evaluating facts and opinions and honestly, learning far more than I would have had I just memorised readings and hastily written a sub-par essay in an exam. The same goes for both my PH230 Einstein for Everyone essays — summative essays allow you to explore your interests in greater depth and engage more with your subject, than if you had maintained a broad focus because you didn’t know would be asked in an exam. I do accept that exams have their role, but why can’t GV100 and GV245 and all the other Government 2nd year modules move towards assessment that is at least 50% essay, 50% exam: where you write one or two essays that are assessed in a year? I know the History department also, bizarrely, maintains 100% exam assessment for many of its modules. It beggars the imagination.
I am happy to see a push to diversify assessment by Paul Kelly and the Students’ Union, but departments need to be quicker in adopting the trend. What are they trying to achieve in sticking to an antiquated exam-based system that makes very little sense for qualitative subjects? Diversified assessment is the way forward: it is less stressful, more rewarding, and leaves you with a better and deeper understanding of your subject. It’s a shame that not everyone at the LSE has realised this yet.