Should diploma exams be worth 50 per cent of students’ overall marks?

Yes, diploma exams prepare students for university

By Hayden McBennett, November 27 2014 —

Albertan high school students are probably happy to hear that the Alberta School Board Association supports the idea of diploma exams that are weighted at only 30 per cent of the final mark. We’d all like it if our university courses were graded that way too. But the problem of heavily weighted tests won’t disappear in university just because we want them to.

Having half of your Grade 12 mark based on one multiple choice test seems harsh and unfair. Alberta is the only province with such heavily-weighted final exams. Students in other provinces are graded more on their class work. This kind of evaluation gives students the opportunity to prove their worth through consistent hard work.

But Albertan students aren’t disadvantaged by our difficult school system. British Columbia compensates for the challenge of diplomas by adding a four per cent cushion to Albertan applicant’s final grades.

Since a large proportion of university classes have midterms and finals worth a large part of their final grade, doing well on high-pressure exams is a necessity. The weighting of exams won’t go down in university. While it might shift to include a couple midterms, it’s common for the combined weight of midterms and finals to be worth most of your grade.

Diploma exams are a preview of post-secondary. University throws 18-year-olds into foreign environments, often without the comfort of home, and expects them to get good grades. Students familiar with high-level testing have an advantage.

Test anxiety — a physiological response paired with dread and fear of failure — has become increasingly common. But the sooner students are exposed to high-pressure academic situations, the sooner they’re able to adapt to it. The first time you write an exam worth 50 per cent of your grade shouldn’t be in a statistics class at the end of your first semester of university. Having experience with heavily-weighted exams won’t make the problems of test anxiety go away, but it will make the first semester of university a bit easier.

If a high school student isn’t looking to pursue post-secondary, then they don’t need to worry about preparing for university. But they also won’t need to worry about the pressures of soaring admission averages. Although diplomas are inconvenient for students who don’t want to pursue post-secondary, you only have to get 50 per cent to pass and graduate. There are even classes in Alberta specifically designed for students who don’t want to pursue post-secondary education.

Reducing the weight of diploma exams might decrease stress, but that’s a small solution to a problem that extends beyond high school. If you have a problem with the diploma exam, you’ll have an issue with university grading. For now, university is structured around tests that make up a large portion of students’ grades. Diploma exams prepare us for that reality.

Students should look at their diploma exams as either a chance to prepare for the struggle they will face in university or the final roadblock at the end of their schooling.


No, diploma exams put too much pressure on students

By Derek Baker, November 27 2014 —

Diploma exams — cumulative exams written at the end of Grade 12 courses that currently count for 50 per cent of a student’s overall grade — are unfair and punitive to students. The motion to see them lowered to 30 per cent will help relieve pressure on Alberta’s high school students.

In university, basing half of the total class grade on one exam is common. But placing such high expectations on students in high school is unfair and encourages poor study habits.

Diploma exams force students to perform at a single moment instead of assessing their work over the semester. How well you do on these diploma exams can determine if you pass or fail a course.

Desperately cramming facts about the USSR’s five-year plans or DNA synthesis isn’t really learning — it’s rote memorization. Students should have time to think critically about the facts presented to them instead of just memorizing them.

Advocates of heavily-weighted diploma exams claim that they prepare students for university. But a lot of high school students in Alberta won’t go to university. University isn’t for everyone. Students who don’t go to university shouldn’t be punished with unneeded stress so university-bound students can be slightly more prepared for the academic rigours of post-secondary.

The last year of high school is also the last time for many people to enjoy being a kid. Academics are important, but high school should be for more than cramming for exams. We constantly tell students to “get involved” and “discover their passions,” but we can’t expect students to do that if there are potentially career-breaking exams around the corner.

Thirty per cent exams still motivate students and prepare them for university, but not at the exclusion of everything else. The current weighting of the diploma exam is unfair to students. Lowering it maintains the formality and rigour of the Albertan education system while lowering the amount of stress placed on students.

In the last year of high school, the transition to adult life has already started. Stress levels and emotions are already running high. Lowering the weight of the exam should bring some relief to a hectic place in life and encourage students to pursue what really matters to them.

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