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There is More to College Education than Credits
[ Issue 133 Page 11 ] Wednesday, June 03, 2015, 18:21:09 Young Jip Kim Staff Reporter jipthelegend@kaist.ac.kr

Many eager students seek to study certain subjects on their own and receive credits by passing the course waiver exam. Their reasons include early graduating, relief of workload for the semester, or simply the feeling they would rather focus on certain classes instead of dwelling on courses they are capable of studying on their own. However, some professors are worried about what the students might miss out on should they receive credit for a course without actually taking the class. Even though there are many cases where students have taken the course waiver exam and suffered no detrimental side effects, the college should consider requiring students to take a course elsewhere prior to taking the course waiver exam for major subjects.

One key issue of the course waiver exam is its potential inadequacy to assess a student’s knowledge of a course. For many subjects, the waiver exam is similar to the class’ final exam and therefore passing the former would seem like the student is equipped with a sufficient understanding of the course material. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. It is possible that some students cram for an exam using past papers. In the short run, they may pass the exam and receive credit for “mastering the class” just like anyone else who takes the full course for the whole semester. However in the long run, taking shortcuts such as cramming for knowledge may backfire hard. Crammed knowledge tends to be easily forgotten so the course waiver exams will have permitted an unqualified student to move on from the course. Especially when the course in question is a fundamental building block to another major course, to which the student wishes to advance, the repurcussions from having a poor foundation will be much more severe.

Furthermore, taking a class is not simply about passing the final exam. In addition to attending the lectures, students must actively participate in class discussions, complete assigned homework, read the required workload, as well as doing any other projects the professor assigns. Even in an ideal scenario where the student has honestly completed the required syllabus in his or her own timely manner, he or she is likely to miss out on the content that is only available in the traditional classroom environment. It is difficult to place a value, in terms of scores or credits, on the wisdom and insight students gain from communicating with professors, interacting with teaching assistants, and sharing ideas or collaborating with one another. Perhaps it is shortsighted and borderline arrogant for one to claim that he or she has absolutely nothing to gain from a class, even if he or she has studied the course beforehand.

Another question that must be addressed is the fairness of the course waiver exams. It is possible that student A, who self-studied a course, is just as, if not more than, competent as student B, who took the course at KAIST or some other institution. Therefore, their overall aptitudes for the course may be incommensurable. It is obvious, however, that student B has committed more time and effort to the class by attending them regularly. Unless all that student B does in class is sleep or flirt with his seatmates, he is justified to believe that he is showing more commitment to the course. From his point of view, awarding student A, who has solved a few hours’ worth of exam questions, the same amount of credits that looks indistinguishable on paper may be somewhat unsettling. Of course, there are always anomalies and what-ifs prompting us to question if more time actually translates into more effort. But conventionally, attending lectures throughout the whole semester is perceived as the more perseverant path without shortcuts.

Self-directed goals and motivation are crucial in higher-level education, and many hope that course waiver exams will encourage just that. However, while we become too focused on springing ahead by waiving courses, we must not lose sight of some of the inescapable traditional values of education. Does school really believe without a trace of doubt that a student can master all aspects of a course by taking a single exam? The student body, the administration, and professors must be wary not to be pressured by the fast-paced and demanding learning environment of Korea into offering and taking course waiver exams instead of seeing through the actual classes. As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Similarly, thoroughly acquired knowledge goes a long way.

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