Thursday, January 05, 2017

Leaving Exams Early

I always tell my students never to leave an exam early. My exam papers are designed to take the time allocated to respond to my exam questions. I often half joke with my students that if I was standing outside the exam hall and pointed a gun at their head telling them to go back in and write some more - they would be able to do it. 

Image source: tes.
There are many reasons for leaving an exam early. Clearly, if a student has not prepared for an exam they might leave early because they struggle or are unable to answer any questions. It is also possible in some subjects that the exam is easy to complete before time is up. I recall one student who left a 2 hour exam after 45 mins telling me that she had "got everything done" in that time - this I refuse to believe. Some students may be satisfied with just a pass and are not targeting a high grade. Others may simply have given everything before the time is up.

It could be of course that as exam setters, I and my colleagues in third-level could be setting exams that are too easy and require only short answers. I have no evidence of this other than seeing students leaving the exam hall early. In my own time correcting exam scripts I have only once ever awarded a 100% mark (a statistics exam where this is possible). This means that there were more marks possible in every single other paper that I have marked. Exams that require an essay type answer will not generate high marks if the "essay" is just ten lines long - too often I see this.

My advice to students is to use all of the time allocated in an exam. The worst thing to do is to leave questions unanswered and leave early - at least make an attempt. If you feel that you have done enough, try to see if there is more that you can do such as add new opinion or compare your answer with the literature. Most important of all is to really analyse if your answer reflects the question asked. If you have given one example, why not provide a second and compare it to the first? This could be the difference between a good grade and a great grade. If you have had do perform calculations, go over them again. One thing I do know - if you leave the exam hall early you have no chance to improve your mark.

In all of my subjects exams are 1.5 or 2 hours long, usually exams are spread out over a week and there would be only one exam every two days. 2 hours is not a long time to commit.

Just to be clear - I do not stand outside the exam hall during my exams and observe who has left early. The exam invigilators do not report this to me either. This is to avoid any bias in correcting the scripts. It makes no difference to my attitude when grading whether a student leaves an exam early or not.

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