Intellectual laziness

I have been thinking about this recently. Why are exams important? Why do they exist? And if they’re so important, why are they universally hated? These are questions we’ve all asked at some point of time, and maybe over extended periods. Let’s consider the exams that commonly take place in the school/college setup here. Here are a few points in favor, that quickly come to mind

1. Exams are important because they test your ability to recall content, your knowledge of    the 
concerned area and your ability to apply that knowledge without external help.             
2. They test problem solving skills, and then your ability to communicate the solution to the  examiner.
3. Ability to work under pressure.
4. In a meritocracy, is there really another way to judge who deserves what?
5. Without exams, students might lose all the motivation to work.

Probably more. And of course, the above points hold only when the conditions are ideal (wrt academic integrity etc.). Then people cite reasons why exams aren’t what they’re made out to be:

1. Getting through today’s world does not need the ability to recall content. Instead, what’s needed to do well is analytical ability and grasping power.

2. Unnecessary pressure on students. People tend to make a big deal out of exam scores. Some people, despite their intelligence, might be bad exam takers.
3. Exams are like a destination. People prepare for them, and forget about the subject. The purpose is defeated.
4. Exams are sources or mental pressure, and might cause people to lose self-esteem.

All the points above are really open for debate, and I don’t want to get into that. But the one point that I do want to write about is the following. First, please consider this question below.

Ques:- Would you still study, if exams were optional, or scores didn't matter?

A. Yes
B. No
C. Can't say

Now, I’m presuming that most people will respond with a flat No. No surprises there, because that’s my response too. And this got me thinking. It is clear that exams are what make us put in efforts in the first place. By the way, I love math, and electronics, so why should I really need exams? And this is not only my story, I guess many people are affected by this. I’m a senior undergraduate now, and as far as my future career choices are concerned, grades don’t matter in the fourth year. And in many a course that I like, I suddenly find it difficult to gather that motivation. Study at all, not even just for the exam. There are other activities that take up time, but what about the intellectual stimulation that I also want?

Ideally, we’re supposed to see exams as intellectual challenges (ignore those stupid tests which don’t need you to think on your own). Are we really doing that? I’m sure we’re not. This state of mind is what I’d like to label as “intellectual laziness”. It’s not about exams, about work, or about anything else, as much as it is about your own mind. It’s an inertia, that prevents your mind from taking up a new challenge that doesn’t guarantee results. For instance, if I posed a challenging problem right away, how many of you would be willing to consciously think about it in the near future? Sadly, the answer again would be that very few of us would even bother to read it. I’m on lots of puzzle groups, and see that puzzles are posted, but solutions don’t come up for quite some time. Barring a few, people don’t usually take interest.

This kind of intellectual inertia scares me. For I know that to make a notable difference to the world, we have to be willing to solve problems all the time. I don’t know whether the result-oriented approach is right or not, but one side-effect of it is definitely this sad state of mind. I wonder it can be tackled.


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