Exam Time

I’m just coming to the end of marking for the first semester. What a tedious task it is! I have small classes (20-30 students) so I can’t imagine what it’s like marking a first year module with a couple of hundred students. Marking is often a depressing experience with a lot of us going around questioning ourselves and asking if  we (the lecturers) are the problem. Trying to be completely objective, I don’t think so. Personally, I find that I’m putting more and more time into my teaching and getting no sense that I’m achieving anything for an awful lot of students.

One thing that I have noticed is that over the years,  the distribution of marks in my modules is becoming increasingly bimodal. There is a peak in the high mark region (>7o) and a much bigger peak in the pass/fail region. The middle seems to be disappearing. I don’t think it’s the fact that my questions are mathematical. The old cliche of a mathematical question being ‘right or wrong’ is way too simplistic. My questions are usually multipart with parts of varying difficulty and anyway there are degrees of ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’.  I often see, for example, solutions where the student stumbles on the right answer – this won’t get full marks like a well structured answer would.

So what’s going on? First, I have to admit that all my teaching has been on one degree program with moderate CAO entry requirements (mainly in the range 365-385 over the last decade but around 420 for our current first years) so my perspective is limited.

Anyway, I think that two things have happened. First, I believe we’ve changed our program, both in terms of its content and how we teach it, so that it is easier for good students to get high marks. This is not necessarily ‘dumbing down’ in my opinion, a subject I might return to on another day. Second, I think students are not working hard enough. This ranges from students who are not engaging at all and simply wasting their time to students who  don’t seem to appreciate the level of committment that is required to complete an honours degree. They might think they are studying hard but it is clearly nowhere near hard enough.

Or perhaps their basic skills in mathematics are so poor that they simply can’t penetrate the subject – like trying to make a judgement about certain characters in a novel  writtten  in a language that you don’t really understand.

Anyway, it’s all over for another few months and I can get back to  writing my  textbook  – a tale for another day perhaps.






About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
This entry was posted in education. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Exam Time

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Exam Time

  2. Pingback: A geek with a hat » A month wasted

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s