How Useful Are College Exams?

Many students experience anxiety and panic before or during an exam, raising the question if college exams are the most accurate measure of intelligence and how drastically they can affect a student’s grade for better or worse.

Test scores are a necessary component of most class curriculums and grading systems. Professors use written exams to measure a student’s knowledge of class subject matter in order to provide them with an accurate grade. Dorothy Cleary, Director of Tutoring and Writing Services, said, “Exams, whether they are multiple choice, objective style or essay, projects, hands-ons, or subjective styles are a necessary component in many courses and disciplines to measure one’s understanding of material studied.” What students need sometimes, however, is reassurance that they can improve their test taking skills. “I always tell students that there is a difference between IQ and intelligence versus having the tools, skills, and strategies to manage, cope, and address the situation,” said Cleary. “Therefore, I believe exams are necessary and are a strong component of measuring one’s knowledge of course material in many, but not all, instances.” Briana Lynch, sophomore art student at Parsons Art School in New York City, does not think exams can accurately measure a student’s intelligence. “You can memorize information for a test but you can’t learn how to create original idea,” said Lynch. “The highest paying jobs are taken by people who can do what was never done before, not by repeating what has already been done.”

One of the benefits of being an art student, according to Lynch, is the hands-on assignments as opposed to written exams. “I feel that in projects you get to see true intelligence. In a critique you get to hear all about why someone created what they did and, in a good piece, every single aspect has been considered based on visual knowledge from other work in addition to artistic theories,” she said. Tutoring Services at the University is located on the lower level of the Rebecca Stafford Student Center and connects students with peer tutors who have excelled in the class they require assistance in. On the University’s website,, students can fill out a tutor request form which will be sent directly to Cleary. She then passes the request on to the peer tutor who best fits the student’s needs. “In general, most students who request peer tutors need help with course content clarification, homework help or test preparation,” said Cleary. “In regards to test preparation, many students experience anxiety and nervousness when preparing for and taking exams.” Cleary added that students experience such anxiety due to under preparation. Time management also comes into play for many students stressing over exams. “Some students tell me it is because they have so many [exams] that they cannot prepare the way they would like to or that they study but no matter how much they study, they never get a great grade, which leads to exam anxiety,” explained Cleary. “Some students have even admitted to me that they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing all along so that when the exam comes around they experience extreme stress.” Cleary offers some tips for students to follow when preparing for an exam such as avoid cramming, get a full night’s rest, eat breakfast and do not consume caffeine before bed. She also said that studying with another person is a good strategy. “If you can teach the material to another person, take confidence that you understand what you are talking about,” said Cleary. Lastly, she added that students should learn good test taking strategies and learn how to relieve stress. Student testimonials on the University website show that the Tutoring Services are an effective resource for students in need of assistance. One student writes, “My tutor ensures that I do all the work myself so that I’m actually learning the material and she’s not just giving me answers.” All peer tutors are advised not to do a student’s work for them, but focus on enhancing a student’s knowledge and certainty of a subject so they may do well on their own. Test-taking anxiety however does not always begin in college. In high school, students are faced with this feeling as well, especially while preparing for SATs. has a list of practice tests and “test day simulators” to help students prepare. These could also be helpful to college students who have since forgotten their test taking strategies.