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Assc prof

Some benefits of exams:

1. relatively easy to grade compared to other assignments
2. impossible to use chatgpt for
3. can test for understanding if written well
4. can easily be graded anonymously, reducing bias
5. they tend not to allow for false positives

They of course have drawbacks too, but the benefits are enough that I keep them in my classes nowadays, even if they aren't ever worth that much. My strategy nowadays is to have several different kinds of assignments (papers, in-class writing, memes, specific HW assignments, etc.) and to have as many of each as possible, given limits on my time and willingness to grade.

A plea for exams

In my experience as both a recent undergraduate student and current TA, if students aren't engaging in explicit memorization study techniques, or activities prone to lodge things in memory (like writing extensive lesson plans as a tutor — docendo discimus), then there will be major gaps in their ability to recall basic, foundational information about the subject matter.

Can exams help with that? I don't think they will on their own. For me, it's about encouraging the kind of study practice that exams are designed to encourage in students. So it seems to me the solution is get students on board with memorization as a broader cultural shift in philosophy pedagogy.

For example, can someone recall the different formulations of Kant's Categorical Imperative without putting them on flashcards to remember them, or writing a test on them? Probably. But would such methods significantly increase the odds that they remember them and should we encourage students to do it? I don't see why not. Obviously, there's *more* to learning philosophy than just rote memorization, but that doesn't mean it isn't a crucial part of learning philosophy.


Maybe this is overly simplistic, but if the students struggle with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions (as seems fairly common), it seems like a mistake not to give them an exam with such questions and to only give them essays.


Like the above commenters, I agree that a certain amount of "rote memorization" has its place.

But because the OP said that exams encourage this more than anything else, I just thought I'd point out, it obviously depends on what questions you're asking on your exam.

For instance, you can reduce the memorization load though printing out a key block of text, and deliberately test a different skill through asking your students to write and develop the best objection they can to the argument being made in the text.


If you don't give tests in your classes, I encourage you to try once. My guess is that you will be shocked by how much less your students understand than you think that they do.

I'll also note that the graduate seminar in which I learned the most was one in which the professor had tests as well as papers. I hated it, but I earned a lot more.

Short answer

I have had success with short answer exams, that are also open-book (in text-heavy intro seminars). It sounds like it would make things really easy on the students, but in my experience it prompts them to spend a lot of time getting the key concepts down so that they are prepared to give an answer that references the text(s) in question.

I've had colleagues who have had great success with oral exams, which also require a similar skill and recall. These might not be feasible for a large course load though.

New prof

I used to avoid exams. Instead, I had daily writing reflections, monthly quizzes, and a final paper. I liked this fine, as did students. Now, I use a final exam as well. I'm happy I do. It forces students to prepare for a major task, a good skill to develop. Also, you can't use chat gpt for a final (as assoc prof notes).

An astonishingly high percentage of my students this term used chat gpt in some form or other to help with their papers (I'd say 20-25%). It is fairly easy to catch, but, even something slips by, the final exam will catch those students. So, if you get the chat bot paper past me, shame on me. If you get roasted by the final exam, shame on you.

Paul Carron

My solution to this dilemma about whether or not to give exams is to give all essay exams where they receive a question pool in advance. Typically, I give them ten short answer essay questions one week in advance, and then when they take the exam they are given six of those questions, and they answer five. I prefer this model since it gives the students time to look back over their notes, and the texts, and study with their student colleagues before taking the exam. If primary texts, concepts, and arguments are the focus of the class, I don't really understand the benefit of multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank exams since that's not the kind of knowledge recall we are striving for. I want them to demonstrate that they understand the concepts and the arguments, but I do think its good to make them have to memorize it and be able to recall and articulate these ideas without notes. However, during COVID it was essentially a take-home exam, and there are benefits to that model since they can directly cite the texts and construct carefully crafted responses. But, in the post-ChatGPT world, I have gone back to in-class exams.

memory is something

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I think low-stakes testing is very ok as one way of evaluating students. To make them as "easy" as possible, I give a list of questions ahead of time. I find that, with this approach, students still have to memorize and learn things by heart, but it should be a lot lower stakes and less stressful. I then give them some number of the questions during class.

I think it is one way to help support students, if our goal is to help them retain some basic facts and ideas so that they might apply them in other contexts.

The Examiner

I am reverting to using more exams in light of Chat-GPT and my growing sense that students are not developing the skills of memorization and recall. Despite the negative connotations of "memorization", this is an important skill to have and develop, in my opinion.

I use other assessments, as well.

To Exam or Not to Exam

OP here - thank you for the great feedback! In their final reflection journal, I asked my students how they felt about me considering potential low-stakes unit exams in my next class, and I was surprised just how many students agreed it would be a GOOD thing, even knowing that it would add to their coursework.

Of course a few were opposed, but the vast majority were actually in favor of adding in some exams to help them recall more, providing they are low-stakes enough. So I am going to try it out, though I still need to decide exactly which sort of exam structure I want to employ (perhaps a mix of essays and short answers).


The approach I took for many years was to have exams (and maybe one short quiz) in my 1000-level courses, and assign research papers in my 2000 or 3000-level courses. The entry level students should focus more on learning/digesting the basic material and being able to explain it. The upper level students should focus more on developing their own perspectives more. Given chatgtp I am now doing exams across the board until I figure out how to deal with this issue.

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