In a recent interview, Brian Cox, physicist and science communicator, said this: “I think it is the wrong message that their job as students is to pass an exam. It really is not; it is to understand their subject.”
I think we’ve all encountered the student who seems to be a good exam performer but when you chat to them in a lab or work with them on a project, you are puzzled as to how they are doing so well. But, in my experience, this sort of student is rare.
Likewise it’s rare that students who do badly in exams perform exceptionally well in project work. They might do better than expected but rarely are they brilliant. Aagin, in my experience.
So, by my reckoning, exams seem to be a good marker of all round ability and a good marker of how well students, on average, understand their subject.
Let’s look at some CAO data from 2018. In the graphs below, the bars represent the median entry points (that’s the median of the minimum points required for each course). The “error bars” represent the range of points required for courses in the institution in question.
We know that within a typical first year university/IoT class, the correlation between CAO points and final grade is weak. But does that mean that points don’t matter? Can we say with confidence that courses where the minimum entry points are 300 are taught at the same level as courses where students enter at 475 points? This question is a sensitive one but it’s one we need to ask.