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RFD for "Exams vs. Essays" Debate

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6/19/2015 5:49:41 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
**This is an RFD for this debate: **

I'm continuing my experiment of posting my longer RFDs in the forums rather than as a bazillion comments. If nothing else, it makes my life easier because I don't have to try to calculate a bottom-to-top division of the thing into +/-2000 character chunks. Clocking in at 21k, this RFD would have taken another 20 minutes just to post (break into sections, make sure the total number is right, start posting, wait....). So, it benefits me!

Okie doke. Pro dropped a request for a vote in a forum thread on another of my RFDs, and it's in his signature. Didn't affect my vote, but worth noting.

A quick note on formatting: Pro, it's super duper annoying to have those big gaps between paragraphs; more so when you have short paragraphs, which are otherwise often a good thing for readability, but you lose all the readability gains when only like 1 or 2 of them appear on the screen at a time. I think you're having a copy/paste issue, but srsly, it makes it harder to read which makes me less inclined to read it. Which doesn't affect scoring, once I've decided to read it anyway, but affects my willingness to vote in the first place.

So Pro argues against exams. My biggest problem with this debate is, he doesn't clearly differntiate what he means by "exams", particularly in contrast with his counterplan. I assume he means "multiple choice tests", but I'm not entirely sure. MCT is "multiple choice tests", THET is "take home essay tests". Thats my understanding of the two concepts being explored in this debate.

He opens by arguing (C1) that exams (MCT) exasperate mental health issues. In light of his later counterplan, I'm unsure how he solves this problem while preserving a method of ensuring adequate education. What is it about MCT (presuming that was truly the intendion about "exams") that affects mental health that wouldn't in a THET, Pro's counterplan? On its face I would be inclined to think that it's the gravity of the situation--that you're being tested--rather than the specific type of test that causes much of the exasperation. But that's not really explicated in the first round, so the point stands. He argues (C2) that exams don't show intelligence; it's here in particular that I believe he's arguing against MCT, as he's arguing that exams show only rote memorization in furtherance of passing the test over truly knowing the material. His next argument (C3) is one regarding errors in marking. Again, in light of his later counterplan, I don't see how he's solved this problem. That said, like with (C1), he hasn't drawn it around to that yet, so the point stands in isolation.

C4 is the counterplan. Pro argues that essays (THET) utilize a wider variety of skills (not entirely sure of the relation of this to specific classes, however, but that's a side note). Pro asserts that "The Professor/Teacher can make a much better evaluation of a students' skills within that paper than on an exam." Pro doesn't fully explicate this counterplan; as best I can tell, he's arguing for a take-home essay test, hence THET. I'm guessing he intends this to be a long project, taking place over some time during the class, but he doesn't really go into detail. He argues that there's less room for error on the part of the student without really explaining why that's necessarily a good thing, and argues for essays as being useful for testing skills that, on their face, don't seem universally applicable to classes. He also posits that cramming will be less done, and that right now cramming isn't particularly effective.

Pro argues that it's easier to cheat on a multiple-choice test than it is to cheat on an essay, arguing for a certainty of oversight programs. I would expect Con to contest this, but it stands until it is contested.

Pro misrepresents his statistics somewhat, and doesn't explain how they would be impacted by his counterplan. The exact language in his source says: "A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment." In the first place, assignments are fundamentally different than tests, so Pro didn't explain how these numbers would change if his counterplan were adopted. In the second place, the statistics are about cheating on "tests". Essay tests, even take-home ones, do exist, so I would expect him to find something breaking down a comparison of those, rather than this; as far as I can tell, the questionaire just asks about "tests", which may well include take-home essay tests. Similarly, the questionaire asks about "assignments", not "essays". It's improper to equivocate. The statistics don't have a lot of value for his case.

That ends Pro's R2.

Con opens R3 by claiming that "For exams to be abolished, exams must: a) benefit nobody. b) [there must] be a better alternative." I think (a) takes things a bit too far, and could otherwise be folded into (b). This does seem to be an "on balance" type of resolution, where we weigh "exams" (MCT) against "essays" (THET), and decide which is better. That said, it's worth noting that technically Pro should he held to a slightly higher burden; not only does he have presumptive BoP, but Con could run on the argument that we can do both, while Pro is stuck arguing that multiple choice tests should be "abolished" entirely. Con doesn't directly run this, but it is touched upon later on, and I'll note where it is.

Con begins with arguing (R1) that the problem is not that MCT is itself stressful, but that "actually it is people's attitude towards them". He argues through rhetorical question that we shouldn't abolish MCT just "because people don't know how to deal with them". He argues that "handling stress is an important life lesson". He then moves on to differentiate between "Exams" and "tests". I'm not really clear at all in what the difference he's talking about is, frankly. Yes, obviously, mid-course "tests" are generally smaller and of less importance than mid-or-end-course exams, but beyond that what's the difference and how does it relate to the motion? For C/R1, I'm left calling it largely a wash, but leaning towards Pro just because Con's response didn't really fully address Pro's issues; that said, Pro's issues didn't seem contrasted with his CP, and as Pro isn't advocating for the total abolishing of any kind of metric for classes, he really needs to do so for it to work. Too much vagueness here for a solid win, but as I said, this point leans Pro.

For his next point (R2), Con argues that Pro's points regarding the small subset of questions isn't really a bad thing becuase it's randomized, and therefore students have to take all possible questions into account. Con concedes that "exams [MCT] are largely a memory test".

The argument Con moves on to (R3) is somewhat bizarre. Con could have argued that errors in grading are non-unique to MCT, and would be present in THET. He doesn't. Instead he argues that students can contest grades, which is all well and good as a rebuttal point (if not as strong as it could have been, but as always we judge based on what happened, not what could have happened), but his explanation of why and how students can contest makes little sense; he doesn't explain why a score on homework should be grounds to contest the score on a test.

Con argues against Pro's CP in (R4), conceding the skills point (which I think was a mistake, but again, it's on what happens, not what could have happened), but arguing that "it is easy for students to get help from friends and family, or their home computer, and so what they write down they may not understand. An exam is a much better way to test someone's understanding of a subject."
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6/19/2015 5:50:19 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
This somewhat feeds into the next point (R5) regarding cheating. Con's objection is a strange one, arguing fundamental differences between exams and tests. In the end this comes back to how Pro misused the source in support of his point.

Con finishes with a closing, arguing that "Exams do not need to be scrapped because a simple solution exists to solve any problems associated with them, in the case of stress, overcoming this is beneficial. If exams were abolished it would be less important to understand a subject, and employers would have a harder time to find the right candidates." Con seems to be arguing that because THET can be done with assistance from others, it diminishes the importance of actually knowing the subject, in contrast to MCT, where you have to sit down and pass or fail on the merits of your memory.

Pro argues that Con "says the problem with exam stress isn't the stress of the exam itself, but rather the attitudes of students towards exams. This fundamentally ignores the fact that exams frequently results in suicides, and to those who already have anxiety and depression, they are fundamentally disadvantaged even before having walked into the room. The nature of the exam by design is to place a person on the spot and recall information with no assistance." For his first point, I'm not sure how that disproves that the issue is the students's response to the exam rather than the exam itself. As to the second point regarding "plac[ing] a person on the spot and recall[ing] information with no assistance", that seems to concede Con's R4--that students can get "assistance" in their THET. Pro really should have explained why this is a good thing.

Pro argues that the stress can be alleviated by practicing and research, which isn't possible in exams. While true, it seems to undercut the purpose of testing (THET or MCT) altogether.

Pro argues that tests and exams aren't fundamentally different, a point I'd be inclined to grant him, and argues that "they are still a point of examination that still only tests memory over actual critical faculties." I return to questioning this point (but Con's failure to pick at it means it's not directly relevant): Critical faculties are not the issue in every class--Pro seems to be ignoring a need for knowledge of the material. Again, for this point to matter, it needs to be brought up by Con. That said, given that both sides are agreeing on the idea of metrics to exit a class, Pro's failure to address this is problematic.

Pro argues that "retesting" takes time and resources; I wish he'd contrast that with the time and resources his own plan entail, but it serves as a response to Con's point on the subject. Pro responds to the businesses point by arguing that businesses don't care about test-taking ability and would prefer schools emphasized presentations.

Pro argues that "[It is true that} marks can be contested... but this isn't always an option. In some cases a veto means taking the risk of losing marks, so students might not always take it up." I don't see the value in this objection. It's akin to arguing that the appeals process is insufficient because you might get caught for other crimes you've comitted. That said, Con didn't really contest that the need to argue a point was less likely with essays (a point I think he well should have contested, but he didn't), which means that it still stands.

Pro then moves on to a point about bell curves, which I don't think he can argue is inherent to MCT itself. Pro argues that "the issue gets worse if someone "bell curves" the marks in order to satisfy class averages to distribute marks. If my exam is bell curved, and I feel as though someone marked it wrong, I would lose marks. Highly unfair. And because marks can be bell curved, whats the point in an exam then in the first place if they're artificially raised or lowered?" Given that the bell curve can apply to essays as well (as it's a method of normalizing scores), I see no value in this line. It's non-topical and rather out of the blue. It's on Con to truly contest this, but it's essentially a complaint about grades rather than methods of testing, and it's not a fair argument for Pro to make unless he expanded on it.

Pro undercuts his case significantly in his R4 response. He says "Essays are not the only alternative. Presentations, group work, and several others can be utilized as well, all of which are far more pragmatic." While that may be true, given that Pro has never properly defined "Exams", and given that his alternative was "Essays", I've been forced to interpret what the scope here is. All of the things he lists (including, frankly, his alternative) could be considered "Exams"--and usually are, when they're used today. A "final exam" may be a THET. A "Final exam" may be your final project, etc. Vagueness does not help the one with the BoP.

Pro also undercuts himself when he says "getting assistance does not mean necessarily that someone "doesn't understand the work". If I am writing an essay on prostitution, and I cannot spell "sex worker" correctly, I can still get "assistance" while still showing my intelligence on the subject." Pro has based a lot of his arguments in support of THET vs. MCT on the idea that THET test a broader range of skills. Here, he concedes that it doesn't really test those--that instead, the student just gets assistance from somewhere for them. That doesn't seem to test the student very much on those skills, and is hardly differentiated from Con's point that the substance of the essay could be assisted with. Thus, Pro has lost most of his ancillary benefits in one fell swoop, and doesn't address the point Con made regarding the substance of the material in the THET. This is a big ding to Pro's case.

On the cheating point, given the R4 rebuttal, I'm not sure I see a difference between, say, printing an answer on a Coke bottle, and looking up the answer online while writing an essay, and I would argue it's on Pro to give me that difference. Still, except inasmuch as the cheating point can be meshed with the responses to R4, I'd call the cheating point a wash without much impact. Where it can be meshed, Pro really really needs to expand, or he'll risk a loss on it.

Pro closes by arguing that putting students at stress is inherently bad, that the bell curve is bad (which really wasn't a strong argument), and that cheating will happen. The first I don't find particularly compelling, nor do I see his alternative solving--he hasn't shown us that it will work, he's simply asserted it'll be less stressful. The second I don't put much stock in at all as an argument. The third seems to invalidate the cheating issue by making cheating allowed.

Con opens the next round by arguing that stress is a more global problem and isn't directly the fault of MCT. He argues that mistakes are unavoidable in any system. He argues that expanding presentation skills doesn't require abolishing exams.

Con argues that the statistics of cheating in final exams is much lower than represented by Pro's numbers, at 0.03%. This is of course in UK exams, as opposed to US ones, so the comparison isn't entirely valid. Still, it's a more direct statistic than the ones that Pro provided, so I tend to prefer it until I get a response from Pro.

Con argues that there are ways to cheat on THET such that they dont' show waht a student has learned, and so also having MCT is valuable.
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6/19/2015 5:50:54 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
And then they both forfeited. A momentary pause here. Normally, a forfeit equals conduct to the opponent. If both sides forfeit, that, to me, usually cancels it out. This particular case is one of those extremely rare ones where I think the comments section of the debate tips the conduct category. In the comments, Con is gracious about the forfeit, and explains that he'll forfeit as well in an attempt to be "fair". I would say to Con that he could have also posted a round indicating that he was skipping that round--then it would have been clear within the debate both that you weren't also forfeiting, and you could have (if you wanted to be gracious) asked us not to ding conduct on Pro. But given Con's graciousness and Pro's forfeit, I think conduct is warranted for Con.

Moving on to the final round, for C/R 1, Con has conceded that MCT can be stressful. Both sides have asserted things regarding that stress--Pro would have us believe it's necessarily a bad thing that counts against MCT, Con would have us believe it's a good thing that helps people learn to deal with stresses in the future. I'm inclined to consider this argument a wash.

For C/R 2, Pro argues that students being forced to come up with information from memory "on the spot" is an inherently bad thing, and that it's better that students "can ask for help". I continue to find this argument somewhat problematic without expansion, but on the flip side, Con has touched on it in passing but never really capitalized on it, so I tend to lean Pro on it, though I don't consider it a clean win on the point.

For C/R 3, Pro goes on a tangent about "unruly" students. I'm not sure what direct relevance it has.

For C/R 4, Pro argues again against the bell curve. But as Con noted, the bell curve is not a necessary part of MCT. This point is uncompelling.

For C/R 5, Pro claims that he thinks cheating will be less prevalent on exams. But it's still just a bare assertion, and in light of how he thinks students should be able to "ask for help", it at least appears that his advocacy is to basically reduce cheating by allowing it. I know that's not how he sees it--but given that he thinks in the MCT that cheating by having answers available is a bad thing, I don't see how that's differentiated from his proposal that explicitly allows that.

Con opens the final round by arguing that abolishing homework would reduce stress. While intriguing, I think it comes in too late in the game to help Con overmuch. It's not fully explicated and there's no opportunity for Pro to respond to it. Overall, the stress argument remains largely a wash, but if I had to pick, I'd lean a bit Pro on this one.

Con makes some points regarding structure that don't really have a great deal of bearing from a scoring perspective.

Con then moves on to "Ramifications of abolition", arguing that it's important to test students specifically on the content of the class or they "become unruly". The "unruly" point was just strange and I don't put much on it. And I think Con's point about testing the actual material is important, but wasn't explicated properly to be weighted such as to warrant a clean win. Still, I lean a bit towards Con on that.

Con defends the bell curve. Frankly, overall the argument is irrelevant. More than that, even if I considered it, it'd be a wash. Con likes it, Pro doesn't. Neither side gave compelling arguments beyond assertion.

Con finally summarizes on of his point that he'd previously made. This summary is the best formulation he's provided: "...if you were going to cheat in an exam it would only be practical to record small things like facts and equations. An understanding of them, and how to apply equations etc is still needed, whereas if you were to cheat in coursework e.g. by having someone do it for you, you wouldn't need to understand anything, which is clearly worse."

Pro never addressed the notion of having someone else do your work with a THET, even though it was brought up multiple times.

On the knowledge point, I think Con wound up with an overall edge. Pro never really dealt with how THETs would actually demonstrate knowledge of subject, nor how avoiding the "having other people do your work" thing would be avoided. He faulted cheating in MCT, but never really explained how his system, where people would be at home looking up answers/getting help would be better in that sense.

On the "on the spot" point, Pro winds up with an edge largely for a failure of Con to address it. Pro's mostly just asserting, but I don't see meaningful rebuttal from Con, and early in the debate Pro folded cramming into that point as part of its justification as negative.

On the points regarding grading, I didn't really think it was particularly topical. Con argued mistakes are inevitable, which I bought, and that scoring problems can be fixed. Pro wins a slight edge on the grounds of having asserted mistakes would be less in essays because Con never addressed it, but I didn't find it, overall, a very compelling argument for either side. In terms of balancing, it's mostly a wash but maybe-sorta a Pro.

In the end I found myself weighing the stress reduction and comprehensive knowledge points against the "do both" point of Con, who conceded the value of essays but argued that exams were necessary to ensure adequate knowledge base in the subject matter. This was a pretty difficult thing to weigh.

From an overview standpoint, both sides suffered from an overabundance of assertion and too much vagueness. I find myself having to clarify my own understanding, which is always problematic because everytime I make an assumption about something, there's risk of opinion injection. Which isn't good.

I finally came down on the Con side, which surprised me a little. No offense to Con intended whatsoever, but his arguments could have stood some editing for focus--more so than Pro's. But when judging and weighing what was and wasn't dropped, I found the point regarding using both and the importance of explicitly testing knowledge of material to be more important than the stress argument, and since Con didn't repudiate essays altogether but insisted that they could coexist with MCT, I found it pretty compelling. It was rough that Pro essentially dropped the point regarding having help from others as a negative for THET. He actually could have addressed it and modified his plan somewhat, I think but--to repeat myself repetitively, we judge what's in the debate, not what could have been in it.

My biggest piece of advice for Pro would probably be to be more specific about what the heck you're talking about. I believe I understand what the intention was, here, but it should be a bad sign to you when a judge has to say that.

So, I wind up with arguments to Con. Conduct to Con. Pro used a lot more sources. I wish they'd been a bit more rigorous, but they did service his points. I'm a little concerned with how he used his statistics, but I don't think it rises to a conduct issue and/or one that should lose him sources, so I'm awarding him those. S&G seemed equal enough for government work, though I'd like to repeat to Pro to PLEASE work on that paragraphing issue.

As always, I'm happy to clarify this RFD!
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