The Fear of Being Offline: an Opinion Piece about Online Exams

People taking exams in an on-site setting
By Emma Wijers | December 6th, 2021

On the first Monday of September, this year, my friends and I gathered at the Harmony Building about ten minutes before our first offline class in a year and a half. We were both anxious and excited, as most of our first year had consisted of online classes and EPU drinks. And at this moment, we were about to find out what our professors looked like, after just seeing them on a screen for a year. Going back to in-person classes was a breath of fresh air. However, the only thing I’m not looking forward to is having to take exams in an actual exam hall.

Online classes were tedious, so I noticed a significant difference with classes in a classroom. On the one hand, going to the Harmony Building felt like I was in a high school class room all over again; on the other, I found my long-lost motivation. During in-person classes, both  my classmates and I noticed that it’s much easier to actively participate and absorb information than during online classes. Additionally, having classes on campus is a great excuse to get out of the house and engage in social interactions. During seminars on Blackboard, we got a chance to catch up in break-out rooms every now and then, but it was still depressing for many of us to have so little social contact. According to the Dutch Health and Youth Care Inspectorate, the COVID measures caused an increase in mental issues among teens. For plenty of students, September 2021 was a chance to get back into the rhythm they were used to and hopefully not be bothered by COVID as much anymore. I was excited, too.

Although I was tired of online classes and lost my motivation because of them, online exams were great. We were able to take the exam in the comfort of our own home. For some people this meant struggling with their WiFi at times, but those technical struggles didn’t bother me. People could plagiarize their answers, but since the exam was in essay format, working together would be noticed because of similar phrasing, just as you would with an actual essay. Above that, I reckon most of the students had the decency to take the test without anyone’s help. If there was any suspicion, teachers had the authority to ask a student questions about how they came to certain answers. Online exams did mean having access to your notes, which were allowed. The thought of going to the Aletta Jacobshal and not having access to those resources, while sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a cold hall scares me. As a second year student, I haven’t done any exams in person yet. The new first year students have more experience with this than the second years do, because our first exam took place online. Partially because this format worked well last year, and because the pandemic was still going on.

There is only one way to get rid of the fear of in-person exams, and that is actually taking them. I hope we’ll get to do an exam on-site soon, purely as a means of exposure therapy. It’s simply a fear of the unknown, and the irrational thought that it may affect your grades. If you’re struggling with this fear as well, let me tell you this: if you made it to where you are now in your studies, it is because of your own intelligence and perseverance, and nothing else.