Exam season has once again rolled around and with it, millions of university students have been left desperately cramming their heads full of information for closed-book exams.

Exams in this country, particularly in schools, have long been glorified memory tests that place more emphasis on an ability to regurgitate information rather than real-world application. Year after year, students with poor memory recall are left with bad results while others grind out a succession of As based on being able to pass what is, essentially, a memory test.

Is this fair? And is it even a useful way of testing students in 2023?

Take English Literature for example. Exams in that subject currently are a closed book affair which requires students to analyse books, plays, and poems with evidence from the text, largely in the form of direct quotes. This is utterly mad and means students are being tested on memorising specific Shakespeare rather than analysing the themes of the play. Would it not make much more sense for students to be allowed their copies of books and use them as a reference point when writing essays?

But won’t that make exams too easy? A common argument from the ‘exams are being dumbed down’ brigade is that making these exams open book would make them too easy, meaning everyone passes. It is nonsense to suggest that even with the text being available, every student would ace the exam. Students who don’t prepare won’t know the book well enough and will spend all their time flicking through it, meaning preparedness will still be rewarded. The cream will still rise to the top, open books will only even the playing field.

Conservatives, both in politics and the media have long claimed that exams are too easy and are being ‘dumbed down’ for a generation of ‘snowflake’ kids. Recent Year 6 SAT exams were the hardest of all time, leaving many children in tears and teachers at a loss.

Since the Tories came to power in 2010 exams have only gotten harder and we’ll leave you with this entertaining footage of then Education Secretary Ed Balls grilling his opposite number Michael Gove with questions from a GCSE science paper.

Like this? Check out more Punching Up here: