DUB panel

Offering fewer resit periods is not going to ease the stress

A resit during the pandemic. Photo: DUB

Some students are caught up in a vicious circle of failing grades and resits all year round. By studying for the resit, they end up falling behind on the things they need to study for the current block, which increases their chances of failing again and thus having to go through another resit. This situation also increases the amount of work and stress for teachers, who have to come up with all these tests and assess them. As a result, both groups often miss out on their vacations.

What if the university would limit the number of resit periods? Perhaps that would ease things a bit? With two instead of four resit periods, students and teachers might be better able to catch their breaths in between blocks. This suggestion has come up more than once in recent years.

According to a memo recently sent by the Executive Board to the University Council (available only to those with a Solis ID), the effect of this proposal is going to be examined in one of the seven pilots UU is looking to implement under Peace and Space, a national project launched by the Dutch Minister of Education, Robbert Dijkgraaf. 

But this is not the only proposal under the microscope. Other universities in the Netherlands would like to verify whether the academic year could be shortened, for example. In Utrecht, this discussion didn't lead anywhere. With a trial period, UU is to focus more on shorter blocks and cutting up existing blocks.

Therefore, the University Council will also examine whether it's possible to reduce the number of weeks where one can resit exams. That would have to be done without "hindering students' academic success", as stated in the council’s memo.

Reason enough for us to ask the members of the DUB panel: Is reducing the number of resit periods a good idea? It looks like they are not convinced.

Fading knowledge
Educational scientist Casper Hulshof thinks that reducing the number of resit periods could be an attractive prospect for teachers, but he fears the consequences for the students, who would have to take more resits in a single period. “I don’t think this is going to ease the work pressure or stress for students when resits are even more clustered than they already are.”

Two students on the panel, Sterre van Wierst and Loes van der Woerdt, reckon it might work for some students, but not so much for others. Both identify major obstacles.

To Sterre van Wierst, a Master's student of Life Sciences, there is already a lot of time between a test and a resit. "I don’t think that waiting even longer would be pleasant. Your skills and knowledge will fade away, which means it would take relatively more time to prepare for all the different aspects of the tests.

“It's also hard to imagine that students would find it easier to resit several exams in a single week, rather than spreading them out over several periods. When I hear complaints about resits, they're usually related to the moment the resits take place (during a holiday, for example) and not so much about frequency."

Loes van der Woerdt, a student of Social Geography & Planning, wonders how the university intends to ensure that students' success rate does not decrease. "If I have to resit a test from period 1 at the end of period 2, I will have probably forgotten a lot of the material. Isn't my performance already impaired by then? I am curious about how this would be implemented."

The work still needs to be done
As opposed to Casper Hulshof, innovation scientist Frank van Rijnsoever thinks that a system with fewer resit periods wouldn't do good for teachers either. “As long as the number of resits isn’t reduced, the work pressure will stay the same for the teachers. After all, the work still needs to be done.”

According to him, it's the number of resits that is a problem. "My level 3 course, which has 140 students, includes an exam and a supplementary test for those who fail the exam or who were ill at the time of the first test. In addition, there’s a second supplementary test for the students who took the original supplementary test as their first option. Finally, each year there’s a fourth moment for students who request a special test facility in order to still obtain a diploma. As a result, I conduct four tests a year for a course that is supposed to have only one examination."

As a key user, Michiel Fleerkate is an educationalist and the person responsible for Digital Testing at the Faculty of Humanities. He too is not convinced that fewer resit periods would be useful. "It would only make students more stressed out. Their grades would be revealed later, so they wouldn't know whether they’ve passed a course or not until later. They would also be uncertain about the progress of their studies for a much longer period of time."

Fleerkate says he’d rather aim at a different way out. He would prefer having teachers "think differently" about the moment tests and resits should take place.

He’s glad that UU's pilot is also going to be paying attention to "programmatic testing" whereby students would be given more prompt feedback on what they learn. According to Fleerkate, this encompasses the introduction of another kind of test, different from the "summative" model in which students must prove at the end of a course that they have understood everything, and in which the period of testing, reviewing and retesting is fixed.

"With other test formats that are in line with the course content, it’s easier to look at a proper distribution of the tests over a block. This creates a different dynamic between tests as well as how and when resits are done."

Law student Stephan Verhulst is also pinning his hopes on the introduction of programmatic testing. "With other forms of testing, we can strongly reduce the number of testing and grading periods. Wonderful! This has been successfully argued in literature for seventy years."

"Fewer tests with grades means fewer resits. So, I'm very much in favour of reducing the number of resit periods. With fewer resits, though, because there would be fewer tests with grades.

"There is just one problem: right now, there is no faculty interested in introducing programmatic testing (except for Veterinary Medicine which is already doing it). So, we will have to arrange it centrally. Here is a message to the university's administration: please make programmatic testing part of the Education Model and the Education Guidelines!"

Finally, philosopher Floris van den Berg doesn't have an opinion about the number of resit periods. "I actually think that students should be able to pass their exams in one go," he emails with a smiley face.