MULVIHILL: Don’t underestimate the skills gained from university examinations

Final exams and midterms teach students marketable skills that will be useful for their futures


The convention, currently scheduled for May, will include 160 delegates representing the 23 localities of the Fifth District

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

In recent years, education scholars and students alike have called for the abolishment of the examination-based educational system at colleges and universities around the nation. These scholars cited a number of reasons exams should be abolished, including their lack of post-graduation relevance. Phil Hedayatnia, a researcher at Rice University, recently argued that the skills students use for examinations are not useful to their future employers. Furthermore, he proposed that higher education as a whole should seek to change its formula and focus more on preparing students for the workforce. Though this criticism may be correct for certain examinations, students gain practical skills from their university examinations that will carry them through years of post-graduate work.

One reason university examinations are beneficial is that they are a good way to prepare students for high-stress situations in the workplace. After graduating from universities, students will likely deal with proposals, presentations, projects and other important tasks for their prospective jobs. For certain jobs, these tasks may be the difference between a pay raise and a punishment from an employer. University examinations are largely criticized for the pressure that they place on students, but if a student learns how to excel under pressure in college, that skill could easily be applied to a post-university job. Final exams in particular are often worth anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of a student’s grade and they present a “make-it-or-break-it” situation in the classroom. Given that many jobs, particularly those in the business world, are so high pressure, students can use their university exams as a way to prepare for the inevitably stressful work environment many of them will enter after graduation.

Essay-based exams also present an opportunity for students to hone their writing skills. The quick and concise answers required for many short-answer questions on final examinations are similar to the short pieces of writing required in the workplace. Additionally, writing-based examinations are beneficial because they prepare students to execute high-quality pieces of writing in stressful situations, often with time restrictions. Many employers value writing skills when hiring students out of college. In a 2011 Washington Post article, Joyce E.A. Russell, of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, explained that writing skills help differentiate between candidates on job applications and argued that the age of the internet has caused a deficit of writing skills in the job market. Though final exams and midterms only occur a few times a semester, they represent a key way for students to practice writing under pressure.

Examinations also help prepare students for the time management skills required for success in the post-collegiate working environment. The exam schedule at many universities is fairly similar to the type of work schedule that students could see in any number of fields. Budgeting time in order to create the best product possible is a skill that must be learned in order to achieve success in the workplace. Final exams and midterms help students practice organizing their tasks and prepare them to manage their time wisely. Exams also prepare students to deliver a large product under a strict deadline. While one could argue that students learn this skill from other assignments throughout the semester, the weight and importance associated with final exams and midterms give students an added incentive to do well. Though the exam schedule in college can seem grueling, it is an ideal way for students to prepare to manage their time in a professional environment, where mistakes result in larger consequences than a lower grade. 

Though traditional final exams are not as practical as an internship or externship, they help students leave college with skills necessary for the workforce. One cannot underestimate the value of the stress and time management skills that students develop throughout their four years in college. The importance of the writing skills that students gain as a result of essay-based examinations should also not be understated. While final exams and midterms are often only discussed through the lens of the content knowledge they test, university examinations are a learning experience for students in other areas as well. Final exams help students develop important skills and, therefore, should not be eliminated from university curricula.

Carly Mulvihill is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at 

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