By Chris Queen
One of Oxford’s five final-year history exams will be replaced by a paper that can be done at home to try to improve results for female students.
The move, which begins in the next academic year, comes as statistics showed 32% of women achieved a first in history at Oxford, compared with 37% of men.
Under the new exam structure, students most likely will be given similar questions to the existing exam, but rather than completing the test within a specifically designated time frame, students will have several days at home to finish.
University officials say that the “gender gap” was a major factor in considering the new exam, along with the fact that the new format would “reward research skills rather than memorisation, or performance under pressure.”
The decision isn’t without its controversy, however. Even the university admits that the risk of plagiarism grows with a take-home test. There’s no guarantee that students won’t collaborate, cheat, or seek outside help with the exam.
The exam isn’t exactly a hit with professors either.
Not everyone in the faculty welcomed the move away from traditional exams. While the introduction of a “take-home” paper was supported by staff and students, some of those who attended meetings about the reform warned that it increased the risk of plagiarism and could reduce academic rigour. “We don’t want girls within the faculty to be blamed for ‘softening’ the course,” one said.
So in this era when the college experience seems more and more like a joke, even highly acclaimed institutions like Oxford are changing important exams simply for the sake of giving higher grades to one group. Even if the new exams are a good idea and truly become a better barometer of academic performance, the reason behind it is totally ridiculous.
It’s enough to make you worry about the future — as if we didn’t have enough to create concern to begin with.