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On Essays and Exams


Done! I finished off my assignment last night, changing a lot more than six words but ending up safely below the limit. The overall flow wasn’t substantially altered but I corrected a few minor mistakes, recast a few sentences and dropped a few phrases that seemed superfluous to the main thread. Since the final deadline is tomorrow and I haven’t got a lot more time available before then, I pressed the button and I’m now finished with studying M811 Information Security.

One of the differences between this course and the previous one, M812 Digital Forensics, is that the latter has an exam rather than an essay for its end of module assessment. While it isn’t the only factor to consider and there are lots of other things to make M812 a worthy course, I definitely prefer the essay approach.

In my opinion, while an essay is far from easy, it has educational value. You have to read both widely and deeply as well as developing an argument and crafting how you express it. I have got to know my three core papers very well and made inroads into the surrounding literature so, regardless of the mark I get, I will have benefited. That isn’t to say that I won’t be disappointed if I get a low mark (and indignant if I fail!) but at least I get to keep the pieces (*).

Studying for an exam is quite a different discipline. You have to memorise things and regurgitate them quickly. I don’t disparage those skills and I can see they have a place in parts of education. I suppose that, for a course that could lead to someone standing in court as an expert witness, there is an argument that it is entirely appropriate. On the other hand, a good expert witness is one who meticulously checks their facts beforehand and knows when to refuse be drawn to give an answer, which isn’t an option in the exam hall.

Certainly for the professional role I am studying to support, and in an environment where facts can be checked so easily it is negligent not to, I will treat assessment methodology as a significant factor in evaluating future study choices.


(*) A neat phrase found in an early FreeBSD licence: http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/118717/how-is-the-phrase-when-your-program-breaks-you-get-to-keep-both-pieces-commo

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