Four Saturdays ago today I was sweating over my first ever Saturday exam. That’s right, an exam on a Saturday! It was a maths exam and the only written test in the January exam period – the other two were on Blackboard. It seems like it’s been a long time to wait for results and I’ve gone from feeling nervous to curious to frustrated and now I’m really quite indifferent about the overdue maths scores. In contrast blackboard tests gave me my marks straight away and it’s got me thinking about blackboard exams…
If you didn’t know, Blackboard is a ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ or VLE and is the main online interaction for students. Lecture slides are on there, marks are posted there, there are forums to discuss things on and it’s also where exams can be set.
So what’s are the good points about having Blackboard exams?
On the pro Blackboard exam side, I’ve already mentioned immediate marking. This isn’t ALWAYS a good thing, when I get a good mark in one exam I tend to slack with my revision for the next, but on the whole, I think I’d rather be in the know than blissfully ignorant.
You can also see where you went wrong… sometimes. Most Blackboard exams show you the questions immediately after you submit the test and it tells you which ones you got right and wrong. It doesn’t show you the correct answer if you got it wrong however, and sometimes (I haven’t worked out why) it won’t let you see how you did at all, just the mark.
This is personal preference, but think I do better in the slightly more relaxed computer room where Blackboard tests are done rather than the rows and rows of bare desks with the clock ticking loudly and ominous examiners whispering behind you in traditional exam halls. Some people might focus more with that pressure though perhaps?
On the downside of Blackboard tests; you don’t usually get a script back of Blackboard exams so you never know exactly what and where you want wrong. That also means there are no Blackboard past papers which can make revising trickier. I was course rep last year and I brought this issue up and they say it’s so that lecturers can recycle questions but personally I think it’s a bit of a poor excuse.
The style of questions for Blackboard tests are also very different to written exams. By their nature, Blackboard exams ask questions with multiple choice, fill in the blank, or type the number in the box type answers. This means can’t waffle your way through answers but also means they can’t ask any in depth, involved questions.
Another downside is that because of the fact the questions are in the form I just mentioned, there are no method marks. My fluids exam last year had horrible problem with how many significant figures, or decimal points to give my answer too. I gave my answer to the amount of decimal places that the values in the question gave, and it turns out the examiner wanted them all to three sig figs. If the correct answer to a question was 3.14, Blackboard couldn’t differentiate between someone who gave an answer of 3.1 and someone who gave 1 million. In a written test the marker would have given most of the method marks and maybe knocked of one for lack of accuracy. In that exam I got 18% and I’d never come close to failing any other Uni exams so I think it’s fair to assume it was at least partly because of the decimal problem. Of course I might have just done way worse than I thought in that exam but I will never know for sure because of the fact you never get to see what the right answers were!
I hope that’s explained some of the key differences between Blackboard and written tests. I personally like Leicester’s way of having January Blackboard exams which are only a small percentage of the module which can be a good indicator of how one is doing and then majority of the exam marks coming from with proper written exams in June.
I would love to know your thoughts on Blackboard tests, it would be really interesting seeing how students are examined in other departments/universities.
See you soon, happy Valentine’s Day for tomorrow!