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Credit: Courtesy of radagast51/Creative Commons

It’s midterm season, and as Penn students, we each have our own scars to show from it. Maybe one of the proofs was weird, maybe the essay prompt made no sense, maybe the test was totally different from what you were expecting. The point is, this season brings back bad memories, creates new ones, and is probably a part of our Penn experience we would be okay with forgetting.

But what if we could help mitigate those midterm "oofs" across the University? With rampant test bank usage throughout Penn, those without access face severe disadvantages. It’s time we embrace the bank and mandate it for all courses.

Now, based on survey data, roughly one-third of you readers may snicker at this proposal because you already have access to test banks. But for the two-thirds of you who do not, you probably are mentally salivating at the idea of having access to past exams for all of your classes.

There are three important questions to answer regarding this proposal. One: Why would a test bank be needed? Two: How would it be allowed? And, three: How would it be implemented?

To answer the first question, one must consider the student body at Penn. We are an incredibly diverse population, not just racially, but also in our places of origin and academic goals.

First, consider our places of origin. Students come from all states and many different nations, and education varies considerably from place to place. Therefore, testing changes as well. One way to reduce imposter syndrome is to give students a heads-up as to what is coming down the line. To show them that the test is nothing they can’t handle, and that they have time to familiarize themselves with a new format of assessment. This helps reduce anxiety running up to the day of the test.

Second, look at our broad academic interests. Penn’s distribution requirements force all students to venture outside of our majors or concentration and take classes in subjects we may feel uncomfortable or unprepared in. While going outside of our comfort zone forces us to grow, throwing ourselves too far into the ocean only results in drowning. When there’s a big lag time from day one of class to the first assessment, it becomes difficult to measure how well you are doing in the class, and being able to measure progress against past exams can mean avoiding the drop deadline passing and having to burn a credit on a class we may not do well in or enjoy.

To answer the second question, you must realize that fairness is also a major concern. Our Code of Academic Integrity explicitly prohibits students from “gaining or providing unauthorized access to examination materials” in an effort to gain an unfair advantage over other students. The fact that test banks are so prevalent at Penn should be enough evidence that something has to be done. It would be effectively impossible to take back all of the old tests currently held in banks, and the students without access to them face a great disadvantage in exam preparedness. At this rate, neutralizing the unfair advantage means equalizing the field by giving everyone access to test banks, not trying to limit them. (And if you are skeptical of the breadth of test banks, consider this: A Wharton Dean’s Advisory Board study found that every core class had materials available in test banks.)

Addressing the third question: This is prime time for Penn to consider making these changes. With the NGSS system (Penn InTouch’s replacement) releasing within the next two years, being able to browse courses and peek at a past midterm is more possible than ever. Imagine getting an idea of what the class is like before you even step foot in the classroom, which could even make add-drop period less hectic. The framework for this is rapidly being built, and we must take advantage of it.

Understandably, there could be concerns from faculty regarding the extra work and potential integrity issues required to both release a past test and create original test questions. There are alternatives to releasing exams, such as giving students study guides and having review sessions for students, though not all are as efficient or effective as releasing past exams. The simplest answer to maintaining exam integrity may be to restrict access to exams (such as not releasing solutions online or creating an exam-only bank of questions), but this still does not remove the unfair advantage from students who have access to a preexisting test bank. Another option would be explicitly stating in the syllabus that the use of test banks are not allowed (as there is no policy on them, professors could do this). While this would make it easier to prosecute test bank users, what happens in the dorms often stays in the dorms.

According to the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education and the University Honor Council, a proposal for a University-wide test bank is being considered by the faculty senate. This signifies hope. It is now our responsibility as students to support this cause.

But what can we do? The simplest action: Show your support by filling out this form (bit.ly/TestBanks). Let the administration know how you feel, and maybe we can lay the groundwork for a more fair, less stressful Penn.

ALFREDO PRATICÒ is a College freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. His email address is pratico@sas.upenn.edu.

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