What are the pros and cons of the 11 exam types?
This is the second and final lesson about Exam Types. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Remind the reader of the eleven academic exam types
– Provide definitions of each exam type
– Discuss the pros and cons of each of the eleven types
In Lesson 1 of this three-lesson course on examination types, we introduced the motivation behind using exams and outlined the skills that are tested, the formats that are used, and the eleven types that students may encounter. In this second lesson on the subject, we next discuss each of these types in turn, first describing the style and expectations of the exam and then providing the learner with any important pros and cons for increasing the chances of exam success.
Type 1: Computational Exams
This first exam type is often used by subjects such as mathematics, computer science or linguistics. In computational exams, the student is often required to successfully perform calculations or complete puzzles in order to pass, usually being required also to show their workings – which is how they reached their conclusion. The benefits of this type of exam are that (1) there should be one correct answer but a number of methods of solving the problem, (2) students should be able to have ample practice with similar computational questions prior to the final exam, and (3) this exam style is less subjective, leading to more consistent marking among assessors. Students, however, may struggle with this examination type if they’ve perhaps forgotten a necessary calculator, haven’t practised sufficiently, or simply don’t know how to reach the correct answer.
Type 2: Group Discussions
As our short course on the subject better explains, students may be required at some point in their course to complete a group discussion, which is when a number of students are provided with a topic and are observed and assessed based on their communication skills, content knowledge and general team work and delivery. While this type of exam might be beneficial for those students who are confident speakers and who have practised working in groups before, some students may find a group exam such as this challenging, stressful, and imbalanced with regards to talking time. Teachers may also find it difficult to asses multiple students at once on aspects such as topic knowledge, delivery and participation.
Type 3: Interviews
Particularly common in courses that focus on listening and speaking are assessed interviews, which are normally conducted between one student and one or multiple teachers. In such interviews, the student will normally be asked a series of questions by the assessing panel, and the answers that student gives and how they answer them will contribute wholly to their final grade. Much like in group discussions, this type of examination is particularly beneficial for students who are confident and well prepared. They’re also an excellent way of testing someone’s on-the-spot listening and speaking skills. The weaknesses of this examination type, however, are that students may feel extremely nervous beforehand, that the questions asked by the assessor could be easier or more difficult depending on random selection, and that a lack of opportunity to speak may make it difficult for the assessor to gauge ability.
Type 4: Mock Exams
In the context of exams, the word ‘mock’ simply indicates that something is not real but is designed to simulate an authentic experience. Mock exams, then, may be any exam type and are simply designed to offer practice for students to increase confidence before the final exam. Aside from the fact that students may become tired of completing them, there are no real downsides to this examination type.
5. Multiple-Choice Exams
One of the least subjective of all exam types is the multiple-choice exam, which may include question styles such as true/false, fill-in-the-gap or indicate the correct answer. These exams are beneficial for institutions as they’re quick to create and even quicker to mark. Students also tend to like this examination type as there’s a chance of scoring points even if you don’t know the correct answer. This exam type, however, is not favoured by most high-quality universities as it can only really be used to test a student’s memory and not whether they understand or can use the concepts.
6. Open-Book Exams
Less common than more traditional exams are the open-book exams in which students are able to bring materials into the exam with them for support. Such materials could be textbooks, journal articles or notes that students have made on research they’ve read. Such exams are useful because (1) students can be asked to provide more detail than normal, (2) students are awarded for significant preparation, and (3) tutors can create more complex examinations. The negatives of this exam type are an increased marking time, more preparation on the student’s part, and more room for error should the student have researched the wrong points.
7. Placement Tests
Sometimes a university may wish to better determine their students’ level of knowledge and skill at the start of a module or degree – such as how well you can read, write, speak or listen. While university-entrance exams are designed to do this, many such exams are unstandardised or simply do not meet the high quality of the university – and so a university might design its own. While unassessed, a student should still take these placement tests seriously so that if necessary they can be offered the best support, such as additional 1-to-1 tutorials or extra classes.
It’s not uncommon also for universities to require that their students complete alone or group presentations about academic topics, demonstrating their body language, delivery strategies and use of visual aids. Such exam types are particularly useful for improving a student’s pronunciation, preparation, posture and confidence, and should be taken very seriously. Of course, if you have little experience in performing in front of your class and delivering a five- to ten-minute speech, then you may find this examination type to be quite nerve-wracking.
9. Proficiency Tests
Similar to placement tests are English proficiency tests such as IELTS or TOEFL – except these are conducted outside of university and are often used to gain entrance into a university’s pre-sessional course, bachelor’s degree or postgraduate master’s. Such tests will usually provide students with a reading, writing, listening and speaking level so that they can gauge their own progress. While such proficiency tests are certainly useful for teachers and academic departments, for students they can be quite stressful, time-consuming and difficult to know how to improve upon.
10. Takeaway Papers
One of the most unique and infrequently used type of exam is the takeaway paper, which is when students are provided with questions that must be completed in a short period of time, such as 24 to 48 hours. While such exams certainly allow the tutor to judge a student’s preparation, problem-solving, resolve under pressure, and knowledge, this exam format can be extremely stressful for students. What’s more, takeaway papers may encourage collusion in which two or more students work together on their assignment, which as a type of academic misconduct could be grounds for dismissal from the university.
11. Timed-Writing Exams
The final exam type on our list is the timed-writing exam, which is a popular examination at universities. In this exam type, students will be required to write under controlled conditions (whether in a classroom or exam hall) and are kept to a strict time limit. Students may then have to read a short text and answer questions about that text or directly construct an essay.
This exam type is useful because (1) it helps to guarantee that students cannot cheat when writing their essay, as is common with coursework, (2) it successfully tests a student’s ability to read, write, process and structure within a timeframe, and (3) it encourages students to be concise and accurate when forming their answers – which are key academic skills. Some tutors, however, argue that timed-writing exams are unfair for their students as they do not create authentic writing scenarios in which a writer would normally be able to carefully consider their response and use aspects of editing and proofreading to improve upon their ideas and arguments.
Now that we’ve explored the eleven most common types of exam that university students may encounter, let’s next look at the twelve most useful tips that students can follow when taking these various examinations.
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