Are Diploma Exams Weighing You Down?

Pipestone Flyer

It was hard not to hear the relieved sighs, along with the occasional cries, of students all over Alberta resulting from the end of first semester diploma exams. While eighty-two percent of Alberta school boards voted to reduce the weight of grade twelve diploma exams from fifty percent to thirty percent, the province will make the final decision on whether to pass the motion or not. Such a large, critical grade percentage derived from only one test on a single day of the year seems a disproportionate way of representing what a student understands. A single exam that determines whether or not you fail your whole course, possibly disallowing your entrance into certain university courses, seems unreasonable. Let’s take a look at some of the ill-considered aspects of the current weighting of diploma exams, and the concerns expressed by students and teachers alike.

The current weight percentage of fifty percent is an inaccurate representation of what a student actually understands for many reasons. One online distance learning teacher told me she believes exams themselves are not a true representation of a student’s knowledge on a topic. Different students have different learning styles; some may not have a good memory while others may not be able to write very quickly. The percentage should at least be lowered to thirty percent so as to make the exams fairer for students with all different gifts and abilities. She mentioned that if the exam weighting was lowered to thirty percent, “The other seventy percent would include participation in class based on a student’s gifts and learning style. Testing someone’s ability under duress never produces great results unless you have a photographic memory.”

When I asked various high school students about the current weighting of diploma exams, almost all agreed that an exam worth half of your final mark does not allow for any grace. An exam worth fifty percent says that circumstances should be nearly perfect for you to demonstrate what you actually understand. The smallest of factors, such as general nerves, sleeplessness, nausea, soreness, or headaches can affect your ability to concentrate and recall information. The stress created by knowing it will count for half of your grade can make your mind go blank from the pressure to perform well, which also contributes to an inaccurate evaluation. The continuous circle of test anxiety almost always disallows you to show what you really know.

While this general stress is very normal, the thousands of students in Alberta who are affected by anxiety disorders are especially disadvantaged during diplomas because of the notably elevated level of anxiety produced, which contributes great inaccuracy to the exam’s result. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that twenty percent of Canadian teens have a mental disorder, with the highest percentage being anxiety. According to Alberta Health Services, it is the most common mental disorder amongst Albertan teens alongside depression, especially between girls aged 15 to 19. Intelligent students who struggle with anxiety disorders might earn high marks before diplomas, but may do very poorly on the exam compared to what they are really capable of, and their final mark will not truly demonstrate their knowledge. What if a student wanted to enroll in an academic university course but does not achieve a competitive enough mark, just because of one attempt at an exam? This would tell them they are not eligible to go and learn what they want to, which is not necessarily true.

Another aspect that many students and teachers agree upon is the disproportionality of these exams. An exam taken in a couple hours’ worth half of your final course grade is disproportional when compared to the months of work and study throughout the school year. One Albertan grade twelve student told me she believes that, “As students we work very hard every semester to get our high marks, so when we come to take our diploma there is a lot weighing on it. Exams cause stress and we have to accomplish a lot in a small amount of time.” Also, real careers don’t exactly work like this; people are not rewarded for a couple hours of testing, but a good job consists of daily commitment and hard effort.

Because of this disproportionality, teachers will often spend a large amount of time throughout the school year focusing on outcomes which are covered in the exams, so as to prepare students to do well on the exam. Since exams can only cover a small part of a course’s outcomes, many important topics within a course may be ignored. These topics are often skills that will be important for university and later life and are unable to be measured in an exam, such as hands-on problem solving. If the weighting was lowered, teachers would be flexible to teach on these other important aspects instead of feeling forced to teach mainly on the examined outcomes.

A last fact to consider is that Alberta is the only place in Canada where students take diploma exams worth fifty percent. Compared to the rest of Canada, grade twelve students in Alberta are examined the hardest. Most provinces write teacher created finals which are usually only worth about thirty percent. Those wanting to enroll in universities outside Alberta may be disadvantaged, as their grade is somewhat incomparable to other students from that province.

It’s time for Alberta’s diploma exams to lose weight!

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP execute search warrant; illegal drugs seized

Two Wetaskiwin residents have been charged with possession and trafficking of Methamphetamine.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Most Read