Essex Drops Year-End Philosophy Exams

The University of Essex Department of Philosophy will no longer be requiring its second- and final-year undergraduate students to take formal, year-end written exams, as departments at most other British universities still do. In an essay in The Guardiandepartment head Fabian Freyenhagen writes:

We realised, in response to feedback from students and employers, that exams were not testing them in the right way. We also realised that we could offer students so much more in the summer term than just revision and testing. Exams clearly have their merits. But in the advanced study of a subject like philosophy, we need to test students’ ability to think in an original and creative way, rather than simply their power of recall. Formal exam conditions are poorly suited to testing the skills that are honed by a philosophy degree: problem-solving, independent learning, collaboration, interpretation and presentation; attributes that are prized by employers across a range of careers…

We also looked at the department’s past results solely on the basis of coursework: there would have been no significant change in degree outcomes. And where there were marginal improvements, these would have slightly benefited female students, who tend to be under-represented in philosophy…

We know that dropping formal written exams goes against the national education trend in schools, which are being told that A-level students need to be tested with more exams. Students arriving at university are accustomed to learning for tests: they have learned to look for the easy options, the minimum they need to cram into their heads to do well in exams. Teachers tell us that they don’t get the chance to teach philosophy properly any more. We need to counteract this. We want students to have a deep understanding of philosophy and our assessment methods need to reflect this.

More here.

Have departments at other British universities considered or made a similar change? And is it for the better?

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