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college exam web sites

A recent CNN article investigates the ethics of online college exam sites. There are arguments for and against such sites. One professor objected to such sites, claiming other professors' desire to reuse old exams without having to write new ones. Another did not want his exams posted because he is copyrighting them for publication in a book he's authoring. OTOH, some professors think such sites are useful and actually contribute their exams.

If you've been following this journal for a while, you can probably guess that I'm in favor of such sites (and wish this sort of thing had been generally available when I was a university student). I think the more practice material you have (especially solved problems), the better. Regarding the time factor for professors creating exams, if the professor is at a school where publication is valued more than teaching, I can see that generating new exams might be a concern, but I still am more sympathetic to the students who can benefit from practice with old exams (who aren't just looking for the answers). Having practice exams also gives the students an idea of what the professors consider important and also a sense of how the exams are structured, so they can better budget their time and so forth.

OCW has all sorts of old exams, bless them. Other schools don't, and in fact, there are rules against redistribution of old exams. I remember reading that in the CS dept of the Technion, it is forbidden for students to give other students old exams. I wonder what students do who need practice test material. Is there a black market for old exams, or is there some alternative form of test practice? Do they just go to other schools' sites and hope the exams they see are representative of what they'll see?



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2008 04:21 am (UTC)
I think if any instructor is overly concerned about their old exams getting out, they could just keep them after the exam, and hand back grades and comments only. That way any instructor that doesn't do this should expect the material to get out.

If it's possible to get hold of an old exam (even without it being online, say, if your friend or sister took the same class last year) then that would be an unfair advantage to those who are able to get it, unless they *all* get it. And it's damn hard to make sure *noone* gets them.
Jul. 21st, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)
I remember in my undergrad days the claim that certain fraternities gave their members an unfair advantage by keeping files of old exams. Having things online would certainly level the playing field.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )