Diploma exams key to success

By Alex Procyk

Another day, another moment closer to a soul crushing, heart pounding final exam. Every time I sit down to study for one, I remember the good old days of provincially mandated diploma exams.

Not long ago this fresh faced, second-year Gauntlet opinions writer was an even more fresh faced high school student. There would come a time each semester to dread and fear an Alberta diploma exam, for good reason too.

I imagine that you’ve blocked those memories out or are an easterner who has come to Alberta with no understanding of these tests.

You have two or three weeks at the end of semester to cram and study like hell for one or two provincially mandated final exams, written in a three-hour period and worth 50 per cent of your final grade. How insane it seemed. This is the regular reality of university life, to an even higher level than before. In retrospect, I have to thank my experiences with diploma exams in Alberta for at least some of my success with my transition into university.

Sure, I’ve become entrenched enough in the university system that my experiences with standardized tests in high school are now as ancient as Palm Pilots or the Macarena. But the key to my current success at the U of C was my initial comfort with testing when transitioning to post-secondary.

The idea that one exam, written over a single morning, should make or break your success in a a course was asinine and unfair to high school Alex. I even had a number of teachers in my high school emphasize negative feelings and opinions about both diploma exams and standardized testing in general.

In the less flexible world of high school, repeating a course is harder and more time consuming than in university.

You’d be hard pressed to find a university student who hasn’t made plans to spend an extra year or two on their degree for this or countless other reasons of convenience. Such decisions are hardly a viable option for high school students.

Standardized testing certainly helps prepare you for the real, year-round hustle and bustle of post-secondary exam seasons.

Final examinations that make or break your grade with 50 per cent weighting are now a common part of our lives. This time around, you won’t be afforded the luxury of almost a month to study for one (maybe two) exams and nothing else.

You might have finals in four, five or even six courses, with more diverse and specialized content, all to be written in less than a two-week window.

I can comfortably say that I may have put a bit more time than necessary into studying for some of my diploma exams. I didn’t want to screw up my future. But when I faced my first university finals season just last year, I quickly realized how without even knowing it, I had laid the ground for university success through those diploma exams.

It’s easy to criticize standardized testing. Heavily weighted tests may encourage students to only study facts for exams, rather than actually absorbing the concepts.

Critics of standardized testing argue that they need to be balanced with a more hands-on learning approach. The weighting sometimes seems too harsh, too high stakes for high schoolers. But students can gain valuable experiences from writing them.

These are issues that can easily be altered for the better through discussion and action. Functionally, standardized tests were a godsend for my peers and I.

Sure, diploma exams are a dead concept for most of us. Understanding their purpose, however, is crucial for future generations. Whatever the faults of standardized testing are, at least it has gotten us far enough to ponder its usefulness.

The purpose of standardized tests is not that they’re enjoyable — it’s that they prepared us for the rigour of university exams.

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