Yesterday, one of my students came to see me. She had failed her exam, and wanted some ‘feedback’ on how she could improve. I of course agreed, and we sat down together to look at her paper, for which she had received a mark of 13 out of 100 (the requirement to pass being 40).
What was immediately evident was that she simply had not displayed any real knowledge about the subject she had been studying ostensibly for a year. One could have put the exam questions to somebody down at the local pub and received broadly the same kind of common sense (and wrong) responses. I put it to her that in order to pass a subject at university, it is necessary to know something about it – and that the reason she had failed was because she evidently did not in this case really know anything about the area which the exam concerned.
Strangely (I was expecting her to insist that she had studied hard for the exam or come up with some kind of ‘my hamster died’ excuse for her performance) she readily conceded my point. In fact, she displayed a blithe indifference to the idea that there might be anything shameful in not knowing anything about a subject she had been studying for many months, at a cost of almost £10,000 in tuition fees alone. “I didn’t really revise,” she said. “And I only really came to the first couple of lectures.”
“How about I give you some feedback when you put in some effort?” is what I wanted to say, but didn’t. I of course was a bit more polite than that. But I did tell her that the only ‘feedback’ I could give was that she might think about studying properly and actually reading things – and then try to display an understanding of what she had read. She took this as one would take a recommendation from a doctor that one ought to go on a diet: with a wincing acknowledgement that I was probably right, conveyed in such a way as to imply that she would probably go on stuffing her face with black forest gateau.