This post is about exams, being in college and jumping through arbitrary hoops set up by arbitrary old men so they can feel arbitrarily important. But most of all it's about everyone wasting a month of their lives for something that surely a better alternative exists for. I may have written about this before.
I am notorious for sucking at passing exams. I am perhaps even more notorious for disrespecting authority and arbitrary tests of skill. There might be some bias. You have been warned.
My hate of tests started early, when I was doing those aptitude tests for first grade I stopped after five minutes saying something like "Here. That's enough for you. Bye".
When you do that at six the examiner goes "Oh my! What a smart little boy, so defiant and thinking for himself!", at 24 the usual reaction is more along the lines of "Omg what an idiot, who let him out of grade school? The guy can't even solve the simplest of problems!"
However, exams are upon us and it is once more time to jump through hoops and prove ourselves worthy of being allowed to jump through some more hoops. Just so old men can pat each other on the back and feel good about having taught people something.
The professors were working on their research and figuring out cool ways to impart knowledge on young impressionable minds. The teaching assistants were also working on their research, while doing a bit of slave work for the professors, imparting knowledge on young impressionable minds and possibly grading some homework.
Most of the students' lives revolved around going to class and having knowledge imparted on their young impressionable minds. Some of them were doing research on the side, or some sort of pet project or another, some have jobs - most of them working on exactly the kind of thing they'll be doing after they graduate - at least that's how it is in my line of work.
The better students were also studying the more interesting subjects in more detail, because what is said in class just doesn't feed their hunger for knowledge.
Some of the students - there might be less of these now that I'm not a freshman anymore - had impressive WoW and Skyrim characters.
Enter exam season, stage left, all our lives got twisted upside down.
Suddenly everyone's productive lives are put on hold for a month while we take the time to jump through hoops and politely ask permission to jump through more.
For a month:
- professors have to observe students jump through hoops instead of advancing their field
- teaching assistants must create those hoops and grade the jumping instead of doing research
- instead of going to cool lectures, students must study
- instead of being productive on cool projects, students must jump
- when a hoop is presented a student must not ask "Why the fuck?", no, they must ask "Can you please turn that on fire as well? And can I do a piruette through it please?"
You come there, often times early in the morning, and are given an exam. Then you are expected to solve four tasks. Each of them must be solved perfeclty on the first try. You have 90 minutes. Good luck.
Remember how they say interviewing candidates should not be based on trivia knowledge or solving "simple" tasks perfectly on the first try under time and situation pressure? [Joel on Software - Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing]
Then why is it considered a good idea to test knowledge of _a whole subject_ like that? There's no way a normal human being even stands a chance.
I'm lying, of course there is.
When you dumb down the whole field into formulaic application of a few algorithms and memorizing a few equations, suddenly everything becomes testable like that. But is this really in the spirit of what we're trying to achieve here?
I mean, we are, after all, trying to prove who is and who isn't worthy of being the creme of high thought in this nation and who gets to advance the field, funding for research, stuff like that.
A bunch of mindless automatons following instructions and dutifully obeying authority are sure to do just that! Wait, why do we have computers again?
I can understand this happening in high school ... a bit ... but college? Seriously? Your idea of a good college education is making sure I know how to follow instructions and apply some basic proofs/algorithms/formulas by hand?
Fuck. That. Shit.
Is there a solution? I don't know, but I've always liked the idea of being given a semester to do a big project involving what we're being taught in class. It's a lot more interesting and a better way to learn about something.
PS: there are many bright exceptions to this behavior at my college, it's just that none of those exams stick in memory because I pass them with a good grade almost without trying.
- Memo to Junior 4s re Exams (stcathmsrosette.wordpress.com)
- Something new (berbececristian.wordpress.com)
- Common Mistakes Made By Students During Exam Period (nairanotes.wordpress.com)
- First post/exams and what they are good for (thoughtofvg.wordpress.com)
- Exam Time (educationandstuff.wordpress.com)
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️