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6 Reasons to End (Almost) All Timed Exams
May 24, 2011 - 9:45pm

Can we declare the era of the timed exam (almost) completely over?

6 Reasons to End (Almost) All Timed Exams*:

1. Level the Playing Field: Does it really make sense anymore to separate some timed exam and un-timed exam groups? When all exams are un-timed, nobody needs to request accommodation or make separate arrangements. What do we lose by setting time boundaries on exams? Seems to me we are often testing the ability to take a test within a certain amount of time, rather than student understanding.

2. Undiagnosed Learning Disabilities: Many of our students will perform much better on our exams if the time pressures are eliminated, and may be unaware that they may qualify a learning accommodation.

3. Unregistered Learners: Many students who have been tested for learning disabilities choose, for many reasons, not to go through the process with the institution of receiving any accommodation.

4. Exams as Diagnostics: Ideally, exams are utilized to diagnose areas where both individuals and the class as a whole needs extra attention and review. If your exam has a diagnostic goal, un-timed exams may provide more valid data on comprehension.

5. Exams for Learning: The process of taking exams should be part of the learning process, an opportunity to rehearse the material, work with the concepts, and move the material from short-term to long-term memory. Eliminating the time pressure may result in more authentic learning during the exam (and even preparation) process.

6. A Knowledge (not Industrial) Economy: Timed tests seem relics of an industrial age of time cards and shifts. Not how knowledge workers work. We work on projects obsessively, for too many hours - or squeeze many things into too few hours. Nobody ever sits us down and makes us produce a final product in 90 minutes, working on a schedule not our own. The timed test no longer matches the reality of work.

* I say "almost" all timed exams, as I'm sure there are edge cases where these are appropriate (examples?) - although I'm thinking that these instances should be exceedingly rare.

The LMS (learning management system) makes it so much easier for us to evolve forward from the timed exam. Our learners can take exams anywhere, on their schedules, and receive instant feedback. Provide a copy of your school's Honor Code to your course site, and require that each student read and agree to follow its principles (you can do this through an un-timed quiz!). Treat our students as we'd like to be treated. Let's end (almost all) timed exams.


I'll also admit that my area of knowledge of, (and language to talk about), student accessibility is not nearly adequate, and I'd like to engage and learn from the community professionals and learners who are working on issues related to disability and accommodation.


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