It is my experience in academic discourse that when a change is proposed, those advocating the change rely on “gut instinct” and “common sense” while those opposing it seek evidence from the literature. My own institution is currently planning a significant change in the academic calendar, and while thinking about this, I came across this paper.
The author examines whether an institution’s reform involving moving semester exams to end of year exams had a negative impact on student performance. The system under study had two semesters, with exams in January and June, and the reform meant that there would be no January exams, just exams for the entire year at the end of the year (the way it used to be, I hear the chorus).
Reasons for the reform included the desire not to overburden first years with exams in January, and to allow students more time to digest their material. The author doesn’t hold back in stating that he believes the reasons for the reform were administrative and financial.
The study involved comparing the mid-term results from modules, and comparing these with semester exam results. Assuming that the mid-term results stayed constant before and after reform, the difference between the mid term mark and the exam performance mark before reform and after reform allow for a measure of the impact of reform on student grades to be determined.
The results shown demonstrate that there was a drop in student performance when the exams moved out of semesters to the end of the year, with students scoring 4 points lower (nearly half a grade).
The author concludes with a statement that sounds a note of caution to those considering changing calendars (DIT colleagues take note!)
These findings may have important policy implications. Changes in examination arrangements should ideally be tested for their impact on student performance before they are introduced. Many changes in higher education are driven not by student learning considerations, but by other reasons such as financial and administrative convenience.
Do you have any feelings regarding when modules should be examined?