You Don't Need to Know This for the Exam

Mar 26, 2015 • Evgenij Belikov

##A Demotivating Experience I remember a demotivating experience during my postgraduate studies. Participating in a lecture on ‘Distributed Systems Programming’ I asked some questions that went slightly beyond the scope of the curriculum and the lecturer merely responded with: “You don’t need to know this for the exam” and went on to conclude the lecture. I was somewhat shocked by the answer. This episode has seriously undermined the authority of the teacher as a source of knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. Was he assuming that I learn only for the exams or unwilling to admit that he actually didn’t know the answers?

An inverse experience happened to me while tutoring for an undergraduate-level programming course. Instead of attempting to understand my explanations of some concepts and programming techniques, a student interrupted by asking something along the lines of: “Are we marked on this? Will this be part of the exam?”

##What could fix the situation after the fact? It is difficult to pinpoint the root cause of such behaviour. My guess is that the cause is systemic, as academics are often assessed based on pass rates of their students, and students need good marks to progress and are willing to give good feedback to lecturers who make it easy to get good marks regardless of the learning outcomes. Often lecturers don’t communicate well amongst each other so that students end up overloaded with coursework which leads to them skipping everything that doesn’t contribute to the marks.

Almost every other reaction would be better than entirely ignoring my question (for instance staying for a few minutes after the lecture), whilst in general a complex trade-off between learning and marks-based assessment and workload needs to be made.