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RFD for Abolishing Exams Debate

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6/21/2015 9:54:26 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
Going to take a page from bladerunner's book and post here in the forums. This is an RFD for this debate:

I'll start with some overview before I get into the arguments directly.

It seems like there's some thing(s) missing from this debate. Or perhaps that some thing(s) were being missed in this debate. I'll run through them here, but just note that since neither debater made an effort to point out these missing pieces, their effect on the debate is nebulous. I'll see what I can do with them at the end.

1) Burdens

"For exams to be abolished, exams must: a) benefit nobody. b) be a better alternative." That's the sole bit of burdens analysis I get in the debate. It comes from the beginning of Con's R2, and never reappears. Pro doesn't contest it, so I have to assume that he must meet both burdens.

Pro, you really should have contested this, especially point a). It's not necessary that you show that exams benefit nobody. My impression of the debate from the outset was that you have to show that exams do more harm than good in a majority of instances. That's it.

Con, I didn't feel like you were being fair with a), but you're not required to be fair, so that's fine for you. I do think you were being generous with b). You should have said "Pro must present a better and entirely separate alternative to exams" The reason will become clear shortly.

2) The case/alternative

This is probably the most confusing part of the debate, because I'm having trouble separating what is an exam from what isn't. No, this isn't a matter of whether a test in an exam " I did think that was playing semantics " but rather, of something that was never addressed. The debate seems to revolve around a very narrow definition of what is and what isn't an exam, namely that an exam is an on the spot evaluation of a person's grasp of the material, whatever that material may be. Most of the focus within that is on what appear to be fill in the blank, short answer, or multiple choice questions (and, for good measure, let's lump true/false questions in). I never see anyone address the fact that many tests contain essay questions, but I can see a difference between getting a question on a test without previous knowledge, and an essay you get to take home and work on for a specified period of time.

But that's the thing. If I'm looking at the resolution, I'm not thinking about exams as being solely on the spot. I'm thinking about all exams. So when Pro talks about focusing on take home essays, presentations, group work, etc., I'm left a little baffled. All of these are a form of examination, meant to utilize previously acquired information in the course of a class. What separates them is that they're not classical examination methods (though I'd argue that essays are, even take homes). Nonetheless, if Con had challenged this and argued that they're all essentially exams, then I would have seen no alternatives. Pro would have automatically failed to provide a better alternative, failing point b) under the established burdens. But Con doesn't give that argument, granting that these are effectively alternatives. So I'm forced to grant that as well. It remains to be seen whether those alternatives are better.

3) Off-case

The title is misleading because there is no off-case. Con doesn't put any offense on the table off of Pro's case. There are a few turns on the case that I will address, but this leaves Con vulnerable, since most of his responses to Pro's case are mitigation. That will become clearer as I get into those arguments, but it doesn't help Con's circumstances.

What I think was a bigger problem is the lack of perspective both sides bring to the debate. Here's the baseline: Pro is arguing that we should somehow reduce the number of methods teachers have available in order to convey and secure the knowledge of their students. I think that line needed to appear somewhere in this debate, because fundamentally, what you're arguing is that that restriction shouldn't exist. Instead, I see you going toe to toe with his arguments, suggesting alternative ways to fix the system without being clear on how they could be applied across all of education. I can see how a goverment might come out with clear rules stating that exams are abolished from the system, even though Pro is never forced to explain it (and he should have been pushed to do so). I can't see how reduced grade percentages per test could.

4) I can't see the forest for the trees

Back to the issue of perspective, I think both debaters needed to take the chance in the last round to take a step back from the debate and take a look at the big picture. Neither side devotes any arguments to weighing the issues. Neither side takes the time to link any of the 5 contentions back to larger issues in the system and why they matter. Both of you hunker down and spend the final round almost solely on rebuttal, with some summary thrown into the mix. This doesn't do either of you any favors. You're putting that effort on your judges, and that's led to the mix of votes you've received. As you'll see, that had little to do with my vote, but it's not hard to see how it can affect others. So a word of advice: make your judges think as little about the debate as possible. Make everything as clear as you can, and leave almost nothing up to the biases of the judges. You have enough bias to deal with without forcing more on us.

5) Contention headings

By comparison, this is a lesser issue, but it confuses the debate somewhat. I'll be going with the contention headings given in the final round, but it's good to have to some consistency in order to keep me from guessing which points belong where. I understand that they're still generally grouped under the same points, but I think the change in emphasis just leaves me with fewer points come the end of the debate. Points start disappearing left and right that, I think, should have been major points of debate because both sides change emphasis on a regular basis. And the lack of signposting in Con's R3 definitely doesn't help.

Alright, now that that's done, I'll get into the contentions. I'll start with what disappeared from argumentation before the final round and then move into what mattered (even if it disappeared) by the end.


(It's exacerbate, not exasperate " just a note on the title)

Pro basically treats stress as a done deal in R5. I don't see any impact analysis here, or even a restating of the points that made this matter, despite this being the major emphasis of Pro's case, not to mention that the harm is basically conceded by Con. That lack of emphasis in the final round undercuts the imapct of this point. You had the space. Use it.

Con takes it one step further and drops his best argument on this contention after R2, which is that stress provides necessary life lessons. Pro dropped this point in R3, and yet I never see it again. This is a turn on Pro's stress argument, it's one of the few pieces of offense Con was accessing during the debate. And yet I can't figure out where it went.

The rest of Con's responses are either mitigation or actually helping Pro's case... seriously. Con poses the question of whether causing stress is reason enough to abolish exams, and later argues that homework causes the same problems. Presumably, there's a link between these two points, but that's never explained. My assumption is that you're saying that stress can be used as an excuse to ban a number of beneficial teaching methods. That would be fine if a) it had been explained in more detail, b) the homework point hadn't come up for the first time in the final round, and c) I had an explanation for why stress isn't reason enough to ban something. Pro's giving me plenty of evidence for why stress is bad, and I don't see any particular reason not to agree with him tha
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6/21/2015 9:58:35 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
(Got cut off)

Pro's giving me plenty of evidence for why stress is bad, and I don't see any particular reason not to agree with him that it's bad enough.

Con states that in England, any stress is the fault of the student. While that might be the case (and Pro doesn't challenge it, surprisingly), it's unclear why that matters. Pro doesn't restrict his case to the U.K. He's talking, presumably, about a general principle for many countries. Even if the problems with stress over tests in the U.K. is all the fault of the students themselves, I could still pick Pro up on China, since you're actively giving him evidence that students there are being forced to take highly stressful examinations that are beyond their capabilities.

The statistics on Prozac are just baffling. Why shouldn't I take this as a huge reason why tests should be abolished? Con argues that they should be taught to deal with stress, but I can't work with that. How? What will they be taught? Maybe homework is at fault for some of their stress, but Pro presented evidence (and so did Con) that stress comes from exams, too. Con even concedes this point in R5, even granting the impact of ELIMINATING teen suicides (which was never Pro's argument, btw).

So I'm buying all of Pro's impacts. Pro might not have been willing to extend his impacts, but Con did it for him, AND supercharged them. Worse yet, this is the most potent impact in the debate, since we're talking about actual lives. The second sentence of Con's final round is practically a death sentence for his case on the contentions themselves, and it abrogates the need for me to do any weighing analysis.


Pro's contention here is entirely defensive. The argument is that exams have no value, and therefore that they are not good assessments of a student's intellect. It's not really a reason not to have exams, just a reason why exams aren't beneficial. He argues that exams could include material not given in a lecture, essentially forcing students to memorize facts from numerous uncertain sources, though this never really gets fully explained as a harm. Nor is the harm of redoing things examined beyond a time commitment issue.

Con's responses aren't very strong. He argues that employers need good listeners (I'm not clear on how exams test listening skills), that good grades are a reflection of the quality of their knowledge on those subjects (though I only get an assertion of that here), and that teachers can provide opportunities to retake tests to offer more opportunities to learn the info (which goes to grading, since this doesn't appear to be an argument for the benefits of examination). Much of Con's response just never comes across as solid. I would have accepted the argument that it shows an ability to deal with stress, though Con never gets there.

The less weight issue I just drop out of the debate. Neither of you seem to like it at all, and Con even goes so far as to turn his own argument to this effect in R5 by stating that it will only make learning appear more rote.

Nonetheless, the results of this are mixed. Pro establishes that most of the goals of examination are lost in the current system. But Con's assertion that good grades show something worthwhile just never gets addressed. He says that gathering all this knowledge will help with future exams and tests, and give them a store of knowledge from which to draw important info in the future. Con argues that employers are more interested in students with high exam scores. Admittedly, this is a lot of arguments that really should have evidence to back them up, but I need counters to these assertions. It would have been really helpful for Pro to point out what happens as a result of cramming for a test, and how that knowledge often disappears shortly after the exam is finished, but Pro never gets there.

This will be extremely important in the conclusion, so bear it in mind.

C/R3) The Same Exam Could Have Different Marks

I'm getting a bit of the cognitive dissonance I mentioned in OV2 here as well. Pro talks about how a professor/teacher isn't the only one to grade tests and how grades can often go wrong as a result. But why do tests, in particular, exacerbate this problem? If I replaced tests with more homework, teaching assistants would have to grade that, too. Are they less likely to make mistakes on that? I'm also unclear on why more nebulous answers, in the form of presentation skills and essays, are better in this regard. Aren't they all the more difficult to grade, taking more time and requiring more subjectivity? Wouldn't that turn this contention? But I never get those responses from Con.

Still, I'm having a devil of a time getting them out of my head. I don't see any uniqueness to this point. Con's response isn't great, since, as Pro points out, you shouldn't have to pursue a regrade. But I just don't see Pro generating a lot of offense on this point. I don't see it as incredibly harmful that students should have to discuss their grade with their teacher.

Con did put a turn down here, regarding the incidence of unruly behavior. On this, I think Pro challenges it enough to make me extremely uncertain. I don't see why the lack of exams makes students unruly. Con's final round warrants don't make any sense of this link, nor do I see any weight being put on why more unruly students matter.

C/R4) Essays Are Much Better Tools of Evaluation

So there are two major points to explore here. One is granted by Con, and one is challenged.

The granted point is that the various alternatives Pro presents are not only actual alternatives (which I would have challenged), but that all the benefits they provide are certain. This is a big mistake. I think there were a lot of good potential responses here regarding how children are educated and whether tests of this sort do more harm to some students. But that's besides the point. Con doesn't give me these responses, and even supercharges some of the benefits Pro presents.

The challenged point is linked to cheating, so I'll spend more time on it there. But part of the point is that you can't learn from something you're getting help on. Again, though, this seems to be non-unique. I'm not sure how an exam is a learning experience. At least Pro presents a case that could be a learning experience, however uncertain that may be based on the help they get.

But the main thing I'm getting out of this point is that Pro has established a set of alternatives. The benefits to those alternatives that he's presented on this point never get effectively weighed, so there's not a lot I can do with them.

C/R5) Cheating

I think this point mostly becomes a wash. Pro argues that cheating can and does happen on exams, even if it has to be more innovative in certain instances. Con argues that there are more opportunities to cheat on a take home exam, which is tempered by Pro's argument that copying word-for-word is much harder when you're writing an essay. I see reasons why each of you has strength here on different levels. However, it wouldn't matter if either of you took this. I don't have any apparent harms of cheating to work with here, and since neither of you did any weighing of this point, it's basically superfluous.


At this point, things should be simple, right? I've already pointed out that Pro's C1 is by far the most potent thing in this debate, and how Con is actually supercharging it. I don't need to read the rest of the debate to know that suicide is a big problem, and I don't need weighing analysis to know that this is the biggest point around. So if my goal at this point is to determine who won based on whose case is better, I'm done here. Ballot signed. Case closed.
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6/21/2015 9:59:07 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
But something's nagging at me. Remember how I said that C/R2 was extremely important? Let's go back to my first overview to see why. Con was the only one in this debate to establish any amount of burdens analysis. He states "For exams to be abolished, exams must: a) benefit nobody. b) be a better alternative." Pro established b), there's no doubt about that. But did he establish a)? Not if I'm buying any potential benefit for examination, and I am. Con may just be asserting the actual benefits, but I can't ignore those assertions when I'm not getting any clear rebuttal to them. Sure, Pro outweighs, but if Con's burdens analysis is to be believed, then outweighing isn't enough. Pro had to win this absolutely, or not at all.

So it all depends on whether I'm buying that the burdens analysis Con provided in R2 still applies by the end of the debate. Admittedly, I'm not not particularly disposed to do so. I don't love the fact that Pro blips this out in R2 without reasoning, and never mentions it again. Con didn't care enough to explain this point or even to bring it up again when it mattered most. Why should I?

However, I'm not given any choice. I don't have any other evaluation of the burdens to turn to, and so much as I'd like to insert what appears to be the most reasonable burdens into this debate, that would require intervention on my part. Pulling through this one unaddressed line from R2 is also an intervention of sorts, but at least that intervention only requires that I pull something that is actually stated in the debate, rather than putting something unstated into it.

As a result, against my better judgment, I vote Con.