Examinations as intellectual property theft

I find myself mourning all the exam papers I poured time and energy into over the years but never got to see, much less keep as proof of my cognitive achievements under pressure. I have never been as focused and fluid as I have been when forced by the exam situation to write just a certain amount and type of material in just a certain amount of time. In one of those paradoxes that Yossarian would recognise, it is possible that I may not have written as well had I known that I would eventually get to reclaim my work, but Yossarian and I both know that we will never get to actually test this possibility.

Why don’t we get to keep our exam papers? I know there are all sorts of reasons, but they still don’t stop me from seeing the particular institution that lays false claim to my tightly woven tapestry of ideas as thieves of the lowest order. Someone who steals jewellery steals only that which money can replace. But I cannot write exactly the same essay twice. I am no naive positivist who lives with the happy false consciousness of objective reality. An exam is a socially constructed situation with so many mutable elements that every piece of work created under its conditions is different. My essays may not be perfect, or even very good; but they are always and forever MINE. Every exam board or university that has taken my creation away from me for grading and then never returned it to me has stolen it from me.

The uninformed reader might assume that I have never tried to request the return of my papers. I have. My friendly and open relationship with one of my professors led me to believe that he would entertain my request to reclaim my intellectual property from the grubby hands of the thieves who didn’t appreciate its value to me. This professor did indeed entertain my request. Or at least he pretended to. Unfortunately, his relationship with his institution was evidently neither as friendly nor as open as mine with him, and his request (if indeed he did make it. I have no way of knowing) was turned down.

I think it’s time this terrible practice of institutional theft was stopped. My papers (however lousy they are) belong to me. To think that I should be satisfied with the reduction of my hours of work to a mere grade is to insult the value I place on those rare moments when I actually manage to articulate my thoughts with some modicum of rhetorical efficacy.

It is a different matter entirely that some of the people grading my exam papers may have been sorely tempted to chuck the entire stack at me in frustration. We all have our issues.

4 thoughts on “Examinations as intellectual property theft

  1. You speak for all of us Mrs. V. I hope this note rings the loudest bell in the ears of the culprits!

    The pen is your weapon my dear lady, use it to librate us all.

    Love you

  2. Hear! Hear! While I would never entertain the delusion that my exam papers have ever been stellar academic achievements in themselves – regardless of eventual grade – I firmly believe I would have benefited intellectually (i.e., the whole point of education) from the opportunity to review my work. In the blur of panic induced by the ticking clock, my brain could only focus on scribbling words on a page…which is why I remain curious (painfully so) about what I actually wrote in those 17 exam booklets. As you say, only those undeserving thieves have access to this privileged information. I, meanwhile, have to be satisfied (which I’m not) with my fuzzy-to-blank memories and my drastically distilled letter of the alphabet. Thanks for not also stealing my pen.

  3. I agree completely. I have to say, here in the US I can’t recall that a professor ever kept my papers (at least not any research papers); they were always returned. In college/university I didn’t do many essays. But I do think you should have the right to have a copy of your essays.

  4. Having just sat through an exam that I did not in fact do very well in, I am now in a position to consider at least one more aspect of this quandary that is salient – the actual quality of the papers, and how it benefits me to have lousy exam scripts returned to me. I agree with all you three lovely ladies who took the time to read and comment. Being allowed to review what you wrote and have the examiner’s comments as a guide would surely add to the learning process. While it would make me squirm, it would be ultimately liberating. And as a learner, I feel like it is my right to have access to all the bits that make up my learning.

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