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Failing an exam at university is courting trouble

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th May 2009 03:00 AM

I HAD heard of retakes (re-sitting a paper) at university and thought it was the easiest thing to do. But that was until I joined Makerere University for a course in Education. I dodged lectures that were boring and before I realised it, I had four retake

I HAD heard of retakes (re-sitting a paper) at university and thought it was the easiest thing to do. But that was until I joined Makerere University for a course in Education. I dodged lectures that were boring and before I realised it, I had four retake

By Matthias Safari

I HAD heard of retakes (re-sitting a paper) at university and thought it was the easiest thing to do. But that was until I joined Makerere University for a course in Education. I dodged lectures that were boring and before I realised it, I had four retakes.

At Makerere, a student is required to pay sh20, 000 to retake a paper. If one has already completed the final year, the fee could accumulate to over sh360,000, including functional fees such as registration and examination fees.

And the woes do not stop at that. If you failed an economics paper in your first year, you would be allowed to proceed to the second year, but you would have to re-sit the paper according to the first year students’ timetable. It would be up to you to keep checking when they are doing a test, coursework or an exam.

Sometimes your first and second year timetables clash such that even when you are determined to pass the retake on the second sitting, your hands are tied. In fact, a student could study till their final year without getting a chance to re-sit a paper.

Faced with this dilemma, I almost quit my course. I learnt that resitting a paper is courting trouble. The first unnerving paper was Foundations of Education, a course unit that as taught by the late Dr. Richard Akankwasa. Another paper was in phonology taught by Levis Mugumya. Both lecturers were strict disciplinarians who believed that I could learn best from merciless treatment. But I was to blame.

While Akankwasa instructed us to type and e-mail him our coursework, I was computer illiterate and as broke as a church mouse. I could not afford to have three or four pages of coursework typeset, when I was living on a shoestring budget. I was a relying on government sponsorship, but the lecturer could not buy my argument. One day, he tore my script because I had not typed my work, so he registered it as a missed coursework.

Normally, missing coursework can earn you a retake because coursework contributes about 30% to the final mark. Perhaps I should have made an effort to have the coursework typed, but I did not. I was frustrated because I was genuinely broke and the lecturer had refused to believe me.

To make ends meet, I started teaching at Ebenezer Christian Academy in Namulanda, 20km on Entebbe Road. This is where hell broke loose. It was hard to balance school and work. In my second year, I could not do the retakes because timetables were clashing. Mugumya’s paper revolved around dull language drills that were mechanical and boring.

Soon, the lecturer realised my negative attitude and was not impressed. I decided to dodge his lectures. Besides, there were many other things I could do during that time. I decided I would resit the papers after third year.

I wanted to make money, as I could barely afford basics like toothpaste. I managed to get a job in three schools in Mbarara.

I would teach almost 24 hours a day. So, my “fourth year” plan was out of the question. But usually, the university gives a maximum of five years in which someone should complete the course.

I realised time was running out and decided to concentrate. But when I decided to re-sit the papers, I was told the old course units had been replaced with new ones. Failing again meant I would be served with the last warning. I resolved that it was in my best interest to wait for the following year (the fifth and final year). I gave up work and used my savings to settle down and concentrate on the retakes.

When the exam timetable was released all the retakes were scheduled on the same day. So I entered exam room after another. Every atom of my energy was stretched to the limit and the papers were far from the cup of tea that I talked of in first year.

Retake policies at other Universities In Uganda, institutions of higher learning rarely handle cases of a students with cumulative retakes. Everything is laid down under the standardisation ordinances by the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE).

The pass mark (usually 50% for undergraduate and 60% for postgraduate courses) is a necessary evil that the universities must enforce, regardless of whether the university is following the semester or term system.

Under the semester system at Makerere, Kyambogo University and Uganda Christian University, a student is discontinued when he fails to get a cumulative grade point average of 2.0 (50%) three semesters in a row, or if he fails the same paper three times.

A student who fails a paper under the term system at Mbarara University of Technology and Islamic University in Uganda is given a supplementary exam before the beginning of the year. If he fails it, he has to repeat the year.

Phenny Birungi, a director at the NCHE, says it is illegal for any institution to give a student a second chance. He says this is in a bid to ensure quality graduates. For some students, it is a maturity issue; it takes them longer to be ready for university.

“As soon as some students are in a different environment and treated like adults, it makes a remarkably positive impact on them,” says another senior educator.

Re-sitting a paper can also give weaker students a better chance of doing well at university, if they spend their time learning exam techniques. “Students who have little confidence in themselves after failing are transformed by a retake — it opens more doors for them in life,” says Beatrice Ariganyira, a retired senior educator.

At Nairobi University, the passmark is at 40%, but one is not allowed to proceed to the next academic year if they fail a paper.

At Oxford University in the UK, the terms and quarters are based on seasons like spring, summer and autumn. The pass mark is at about 60%. But should a student fail to complete his course, he is awarded an associate degree.

Failing an exam at university is courting trouble

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