online course Tertiary teaching

Exam tourist

andeecollard: Exam (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s that time of year again. I think I’ve written before about how much I dislike having to administer exams and if I had any choice in the matter, my students wouldn’t have to take exams at all, but it’s not up for discussion in a university setting where I live.

Today I wanted to vent a little about something I find particularly annoying: a practice we jokingly refer to as “exam tourism” in Croatian. Students show up for the exam having previously done virtually zero prep on the off-chance that they’ll pass, or if not, at the very least they’ll get to see what the exam paper looks like, so they’ll be more likely to get a better grade when the next exam date rolls around. They have 4 attempts at taking the exam before they need to retake the course, so they (probably) figure they’re pretty safe and aren’t wasting an attempt. 

I can see how from the students’ perspective this might be a win-win situation, but from where I’m sitting it’s a sad waste of time. I don’t know about other courses but “tourist” exam papers that get handed in to me are usually either only half filled in or show the student hasn’t read (or perhaps put in effort to understand) the instructions, and the scores are pretty dismal as a result. I suspect the students aren’t that concerned because they may not even have expected to pass, but I think I can be excused for feeling fairly resentful at having to waste my time grading papers whose authors haven’t bothered to put in the least bit of effort. I’m sure some would say that’s my job. 

Lest you should be thinking, well maybe students wouldn’t need to resort to this if they only had a chance to practice for the exam a bit in class, let me say that there is an entire unit aimed at practice and revision on our online course, plus there’s a screencast walking the students through the exam paper, describing each exercise type and recommending what to focus on during revision.

I’m curious whether this is a common practice in other countries as well? A Croatian colleague purportedly tells their students that they aren’t allowed to do the tourist thing; if I understand correctly, should a student do this and happen to scrape through, they’ll have to accept a lower grade overall. Normally, once a student passes the exam, their exam grade is added to their other grades from the semester (coursework, etc.) and their final grade is how all this averages out. This is a bit simplistic, but essentially how it works. But the student needs to formally accept this average as their final grade, which means that those who aren’t happy with the exam grade pulling their average down can retake the exam, in theory 3 times. They may not wish to bother with the third attempt because that involves a panel of three examiners, as it’s the “last strike before you’re out” exam.

If you teach in a university setting, how many attempts do your students have at doing the final exam? Do you ever get the impression that students show up at the exam as “tourists”? Does 4 attempts seem like a fair number to you? 


By ven_vve

ELT, elearning, higher ed, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era.

5 replies on “Exam tourist”

Hi Vedrana,
This is a very interesting post and observation. I’ve never heard of exam tourists but now you’ve mentioned them, it is something our Czech students would do for the exams in Czech. If they can afford the extra cost, they just take a “blind” attempt to see what the exam looks like. I understand how annoying it is to mark their papers. I am generally annoyed if I have to mark work that hasn’t received enough attention and care by the author, whatever the context is. We’ve discussed this before. For the university programs, there are normally three attempts. But in the course where I teach, the students are usually terrified of the English exam and try to pass on the first attempt – but that is an oral examination. The levels are mixed and I haven’t been able to work out how to test them in writing. And to be honest, I prefer the oral form for this type of course.
Thanks for a great post!

Liked by 1 person

Hi Kamila,
Just writing it up made me feel a bit better because I wasn’t just complaining about it in my head. Or to people who aren’t teachers but, unfortunately for them, happen to be close by. The Croatian phrase for this would be “izašli su (na ispit) turistički” and to me this always conjures up images of package tourists who have everything taken care of for them and travel like luggage (another direct translation from Croatian).
It’s interesting that you should say students on your course are scared of the English exam; I get the impression mine aren’t in the least, but I may be wrong because I’m basing this judgment on the attitude of the tourists. Is it typical for exams to be both written and oral where you teach? My course only has a written exam component but that’s because it’s a writing course. I think most other courses have an oral component. But now this reminds me of when I taught the presentation skills course: I think I was also expected to include a written exam but I only had students do presentations instead. It seemed like the most relevant thing to test, as opposed to the theory of presenting, which I could’ve tested in written form.
Thanks for the comment and your kind words!

Liked by 2 people

Ooh, interesting, Vedrana.

Japan has one of the lowest average TOEFL and TOEIC scores because they are kind of high stakes and, while expensive, not prohibitively so. Some people I have taught even take these tests as a hobby.

At one of my universities, it’s pass once or resit the whole unit. But the test component is a maximum of 50%.

Interesting stuff!

Liked by 2 people

Hi Marc,
On my course the exam makes up 40% and the coursework and portfolio the other 60%. I guess compared to 4 attempts over here, pass once or resit the unit sounds a bit tough, but on the other hand it’s a unit so probably several units make up a semester?
When you say some people take TOEFL/TOEIC as a hobby, do you mean they have a go and if they aren’t happy with the score they retake the exam?


Yeah several units make up a semester so it’s not so bad.

You are absolutely right about the TOEIC/TOEFL thing. I forgot to say there are even people who keep taking TOEIC (reading and listening) to get the ceiling score.

Liked by 2 people

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