Exams vs Coursework – The Big Debate


Exams may seem like a good form of assessment, but with changing times and evolving market demands – are they still as relevant as they used to be? Is the process of evaluating students by averaging their grades the most accurate representation of how well that child is doing in their studies?

With Australia’s high school students having just finished the 2015 ATAR, VCE, OP, ACT, HSC, exams, and our KBS students just receiving their results – this is a great opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of exams.


The good news – why exams exist.

  • Having the syllabus and its exams standardised across the classroom allows for a level-playing field, making it easier for institutions like schools to gauge an individual’s performance.
  • Exams give student a strong incentive to study, with the promise of hard work = good results. Some people even argue that they would never, ever study if they didn’t have exams!
  • Exams are excellent at getting students to store large amounts of information into their brains in a short amount of time.
  • Exams help to reinforce useful, real-life learning skills, and other concepts like time management, managing stress, dealing with due dates, etc.

One person on debate.org stated that “We all know that exams are not the perfect way of assessing skills. However, it is the best way we have. It’s really important to motivate the kids, I myself am a student, and I can honestly tell you that I wouldn’t ever study if we didn’t have exams”.

The bad news – they’re far from perfect.

In a perfect world, exams might be the solution. Unfortunately for us, our world is far from perfect, and thus – so are exams!

Basing a student’s academic abilities on a single examination paper is flawed because there are too many external factors that can unfairly affect a student’s performance. For example, what if the student is not feeling their best that day? What if the child suffers from a disorder that limits their capacity to retain information, such as ADD or ADHD? Is it really then 100% fair to call exams an accurate assessment of intelligence?

Many argue that exams can cause much stress, panic and anxiety in students, that they should be credited on their merit and commitment instead. Coursework, on the other hand, provides a steady assessment over the course of months, guaranteeing the students’ results to be an accurate summary of their academic standards.

Also, it is a school’s aim to prepare students for the future. While exams are certainly effective at forcing students to cram large amounts of information into their heads, it is far more important that students learn to do research, work in a team and think for themselves. These are skills that are needed throughout their lives and can only be gained through coursework.

Author of ‘Education by Numbers: The Tyranny of Testing’ Warwick Mansell explains that “pursuing results almost as ends in themselves has been forced on schools, in their desperation to fulfil the requirements of hyper-accountability… this grades race is ultimately self-defeating. It does not guarantee better educated pupils, just better statistics for schools and the government”.


It’s evident that exams are far from perfect, and we know this. At Kaplan Business School and many other Australian institutions, our assessment uses a combination of both coursework and standardised examinations so that students are assessed as holistically as possible.

What is your opinion of exams? Do you think they are a good or outdated form of assessment? How can we improve the way the education system assesses their students?

At Kaplan Business School, our programs are designed to create the business leaders of tomorrow. Our graduates have gone on to become entrepreneurs, directors and managers all across Australia and the globe.

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